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Would You Report Your Neighbor for Burning Wood on a Spare the Air Day?

In two years, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has collected $800 in fines for illegal residential wood burning.


Last winter, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District received 3,777 citizen complaints about residential wood burning during the season’s 15 Spare the Air days. Those complaints resulted in a total of 346 warnings to wood burners in nine counties and 13 tickets carrying a $400 fine (See table below).

Aaron Richardson, a spokesman for the BAAQMD, said by email that the agency has only collected $800 in fines from the previous two winters, but that the chief point of banning wood fires on certain winter days is about improving air quality, not raising revenue. He added that early studies suggest that wood burning may be down by 15 percent from five years ago.

Here’s Richardson on how the BAAQMD enforces wood burning bans:

“We have about 70 inspectors on staff, and though not all of them are dispatched at any one time for wood burning duty, we send out patrols of various sizes on Winter Spare the Air days, depending on the day and availability.

“Inspectors must witness and document a violation to issue a citation.  We track all complaints received and use those to help plan neighborhoods to patrol.

“They look for smoke, and are trained in smoke plume recognition and opacity, and they must go to the physical location of the fire to determine and document the source before writing a citation.”

Warnings and Tickets Issued for Wood Burning on Winter Spare the Air Days Winter 2010-2011 (4 days of ban) Winter 2011-2012 (15 days of ban) County Warnings Tickets Warnings Tickets Alameda 5 0 10 0 Contra Costa 5 1 57 4 Marin 5 0 48 3 Napa 0 0 51 1 San Francisco 0 0 1 0 Santa Clara 13 1 32 2 San Mateo 2 0 31 1 Solano 0 0 8 0 Sonoma 29 0 108 2 Total 59 2 346 13

Source: BAAQMD

This season, first time offenders, who would have previously received a warning letter, will now be obliged to take an online class on the public health impacts of wood smoke. 

While Thursday is not a Spare the Air day, the BAAQMD is asking people to voluntarily forgo wood fires. 

Citizen January 04, 2013 at 11:06 PM
The better question is: Would you pollute your neighborhood by using your fireplace on a spare-the-air day? Or on any day for that matter? So much is known about the toxic chemicals in wood smoke and their detrimental health effects. Please see the following links for more information: http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/pdfs/woodsmoke_health_effects_jan07.pdf or http://familiesforcleanair.com.
Chas Blackford January 05, 2013 at 03:45 PM
This isn't Cuba, yet. If you're on friendly terms, a call or visit would be the neighborly thing to do, first. If you worried it would be confrontational, then an anonymous, friendly, FYI note in the mailbox would be appropriate. If they are a chronic violator, then report them.
Brenda January 05, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Yes, in a heartbeat. My neighbors are renters, a revolving door of young adults who burn everything that's not attached in their "firepit" - the smoke plumes waft with toxic chemicals from the treated wood. It's terrible.
Rico January 05, 2013 at 06:15 PM
I am exempt from any wood burning bans because I have no PG&E gas at my house, but I am not worried about my neighbors turning me in for many reasons. I know all my neighbors (the neartest house is 200 feet away from mine). I talk to my neighbors and they all know that I am exempt, but I also ask them if they noticed or are bothered by my using my wood stove, all of them have told me that there is no problem. I am considerate and keep a close eye on my chimney because I use my wood stove 24/7 during the winter. The key to having an efficient wood burning operation is to only use oak or other hardwoods. I always have a bed of coals, even when I clean the stove everyday to get rid of the white ash, I leave enough to rekindle a good fire. I know the BAAQMD would never drive up here, they stay down in the suburbs where some deputy do-rights rat on their neighbors for anything and everything. Most all of the time, there is no visable smoke coming out of my chimney, just heat waves. Living up in the hills in the redwood forest is great for many reasons and I much prefer it to living down in the "burbs" where the BAAQMD lurks. I got a big kick out of the high readings coming out of Richmond, and the BAAQMD blamed the air pollution on wood burning. As it turned out, the Chevron refinery was diverting pollution away from their own monitors, tricking the BAAQMD into thinking it was wood smoke causing the high readings. After reading that, I now know not to trust the BAAQMD !
valeri hood January 05, 2013 at 06:17 PM
Another question is- what do you do if you are on a fixed income and have a fireplace as your only heat? The answer is, you are allowed to use it on any day.
Bill McGee January 06, 2013 at 08:13 AM
I agree with Chas and Ricardo on dealing with neighbors. If I felt a need to speak up it would on a direct basis face to face. I value my relationship with my neighbors and we trust each other on many fronts. Fortunately most people do adhere to the burn restriction which explains why they have been so effective. I was glad to see the statistics posted because of the ridiculously low number of citations written. I think most people become familiar with the BAAQMD in terms of the banning fireplace usage during spare the air days but this is just a small part of how they regulate the air quality. Much of their focus is on regulating industrial and agricultural. Since commercial entities tend to push back and fight with lawyers, the air district has to employ a sizeable legal staff for enforcement. I remember people burning their trash in the backyard during the 1960’s in Marin. The air district banned this practice in 1970. The Spare the air program was started in 1991 and was advisory until 2008. People are understandably touchy about wood burning because it is such a long standing practice and tradition in many families and nobody is fond of big brother making new laws or regulations on what many people view as an individual freedom. Kudos to Air District for their effectiveness through public outreach and education. Most people adhere to it because they know it is the right thing to do, as opposed to the fear of a citation.
Bill McGee January 06, 2013 at 08:18 AM
Another item pertaining to the BAAQMD is one that has not received much attention here in Marin is that Developers have been fighting the BAAQMD for a few years over regulations which they say hinder growth and development. The Building Trades Council recently took the air district to court over BAAQMD regulations which have stalled and restricted many projects including those scorned “transit-oriented” variety. An Alameda County Judge agreed with the Building Trades Council and ordered Bay Area regional air quality regulators to withdraw new regulations that were widely seen as increasing the cost of smart-growth development. At issue are policies adopted by BAAQMD in June 2010 governing project analysis and mitigation requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act related to, among other things, toxic air contaminants and greenhouse gas emissions, for projects of all types throughout the region. The BAAQMD regulations were strenuously opposed by the building industry, affordable housing advocates and economic development groups on the grounds they would render well-located higher density and transit-oriented projects in every Bay Area city and county much more difficult economically and politically—and in some cases altogether infeasible. http://www.biabayarea.org/about/regional-regulatory-archives/Judge-Orders-BAAQMD-to-Shelve-New-Regs-on-Developers.html#bf_miniCal_150
Born & raised January 11, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Your allowed to have a cooking fire, so just keep a marshmallow or a hot dog nearby and call it good!
Kevin January 12, 2013 at 12:27 AM
Hell no!
Anne Tique January 12, 2013 at 01:24 AM
Does anyone know if those BAAQMD Inspectors patrol on foot, bike, or by driving around in fossil fuel-burning vehicles?
Tina McMillan January 12, 2013 at 08:47 AM
Wood Stoves have come a long way. Ricardo is right about what kind of wood to burn and with many inserts you can turn a fireplace (which loses more heat than it creates) into a efficient heat source. I get emails that alert me to the no burn days. It was great having all that rain in December as I got to supplement my heating bill with a wood fire. The Olympic has a two flu system that lets you control the burn rate. You save money and you can put a kettle on the top to act as a humidifier. If we eliminate all wood burning and there is a crisis where we have no electricity or gas, we have no efficient way of staying warm or cooking. Every home should have an EPA certified wood burning stove. http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/publications/monitoring/caa/woodstoves/certifiedwood.pdf http://avalonfirestyles.com/TravisDocs/98800152.pdf
Rob December 15, 2013 at 10:52 PM
Its a scam. PG&E "Spare the share" day.

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