The ninth season of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s Check Before You Burn program ended Wednesday with a record number of burn prohibitions issued over the winter months.
The dry and unseasonably warm winter created stagnant air conditions that kept particulate matter like soot, ash, dust and other miniscule materials hovering over the Central Valley and resulted in a string of burning curtailments.
“Considering the abnormal conditions this winter that dealt not only us but air districts statewide one blow after another in terms of air quality, this rule was especially critical in minimizing, to the extent possible, this dangerous form of pollution,” said Seyed Sadredin, the air district’s air pollution control officer and executive director.
Check Before You Burn runs from November through February each winter and restricts the use of residential wood-burning devices when air quality deteriorates in order to prevent the build-up of fine particulate matter.
During winter wood burning is the largest single source of fine particulate matter, which is a harmful form of pollution that has been linked to chronic lung disease, respiratory illness, heart attacks and premature death.
Each day during the season, wood burning forecasts are issued by county that determine if open-hearth fireplaces, wood-burning stoves or inserts, or pellet stoves can be used. Curtailments also apply to outdoor chimneys and fire pits. Violations of these prohibitions result in fines, although exemptions are available to residents for whom wood burning is their sole source of heat or if they have no access to natural gas.
Residential wood burning can pump as much as 17 tons per day of this pollutant into the air basin. 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.
There were 51 burn prohibitions issued in Stanislaus County this year, compared to 25 for last year. There were 152 notice of violations issued in the county this season. Last year, there were 54 issued.
“It has been a difficult season for everyone in the Valley, and it bears repeating that despite the conditions that escaped our control, the willingness of residents to refrain from wood burning prevented even more dire air quality conditions from forming,” Sadredin said.