The 10th season of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s Check Before You Burn program is starting Thursday.
From November to February the Air District will issue wood-burning forecasts by county for one of two levels: “Wood-burning prohibited” or “Please Burn Cleanly.” When wood burning is prohibited, all residential wood burning — including fireplaces, wood-burning inserts and heaters, pellet stoves and outdoor devices such as fire pits and chimineas — is prohibited. When the forecast is “Please Burn Cleanly,” the Air District encourages residents to use manufactured fire logs or dry, seasoned wood. Gas fireplace use is always allowed.
There are two exceptions to wood-burning prohibitions: If the residence does not have access to natural-gas service, even if propane is used; or if burning solid fuel is the sole source of heat for the residence.
Residential wood burning is the single largest source of harmful particulate matter during winter and can pump 17 tons of particulate matter into Valley skies daily. Fine-particulate matter exacerbates respiratory illness, such as asthma; causes lung infections and bronchitis; and has been correlated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.
A Valley-wide wood burning curtailment results in air pollution reductions equivalent to taking 140,000 trucks off the road, according to the Air District.
Last season the Air District issued a record-setting 51 burn prohibitions for Stanislaus County, compared to the 25 issued the year before. There were 152 notice of violations issued in the county last season, while 54 were issued in the 2010-11 season. Prohibition violations are subject to fines. A first time offense nets a fine of $50, but the fine can be waived if the resident completes the district’s air pollution exam. A second offense costs $150; additional fines can run up to $1,000.
The Air District has credited the Check Before You Burn program as spurring historically clean wintertime air quality in the Valley over the past several years.
“Thanks to the public’s support and cooperation, this rule is the single most-effective, lowest-cost regulation on record in the Valley,” said Seyed Sadredin, the Air District’s executive director and air pollution control officer. “It is absolutely imperative to improved air quality.”
For those days when wood-burning is allowed it’s recommended people use local firewood to avoid moving harmful insects and plant diseases into and around California.
"Many people don't realize that firewood can harbor harmful insects and plant pathogens. Moving around infested wood can introduce those pests and pathogens to new areas where they might take hold and could have devastating impacts to trees, our natural resources and local communities,” said Don Owen, California Firewood Task Force chair and CAL FIRE forest pest specialist based in Redding.
Daily wood-burning forecasts are available each day at 4:30 p.m. at http://valleyair.org/aqinfo/WoodBurnPage.htm, by calling 1-800 SMOG INFO (766-4463), or by subscribing to the Air District’s daily air quality forecast athttp://www.valleyair.org/lists/list.htm.