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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. 

Howard Harawitz January 06, 2013 at 09:40 PM
I know every little bit helps, but would turning in a fireplace user near where I live actually make enough of a dent in air pollution to justify creating seriously bad vibes in my neighborhood?
Jon Spangler January 07, 2013 at 12:10 AM
Jan Sundberg, a noisy and un-mufflered gas-powered leaf blower hurts my ears just as much as if you punched me in the mouth. (Brooms and rakes, by comparison, are far quieter, carbon-emissions-free, more civilized, and much less dangerous to human hearing.) Just because my tinnitus and sensitivity to loud noise is not visible does not mean it is not crippling to be assaulted by sound. Jackhammers, car backfires, or loud amplified music are excruciatingly painful to some of us.
Jon Spangler January 07, 2013 at 12:37 AM
II would certainly consider reporting someone for burning wood in a fireplace--especially a neighbor--if a polite request did not result in an end to the pollution. Why? Someone burning wood in a traditional fireplace (versus an efficient gas, wood-burning or pellet stove) is attacking my wife's lungs just as surely as if she were attacked by someone with a knife or fists. Her asthma and bronchitis--already worse with the cold winter air--make her especially vulnerable to assault from airborne particulates like those in wood smoke. It is our moral and ethical responsibility to protect those we love as well as others who may be at risk and to intervene on their behalf. Preventing air pollution is no more a matter of "live and let live" than standing by and letting someone get away with a robbery. Asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis may work more slowly and not seem as dramatic but they can be just as deadly over time.) Please be considerate of others before you light up that home-cooling and inefficient fire in the fireplace. The lungs you save may not be your own but those organs are quite valuable to those who need them.
510gal January 07, 2013 at 07:27 PM
I wouldn't turn in a neighbor, but I'd appreciate it if neighbors observe the spare the air days also. Asthma is no fun and the smoke does cause it to flare up. We're all trying to live together peacefully with respect for each other!
joel January 27, 2013 at 05:17 AM
to snitch or not to snitch? Interesting question ,at 30 mph there is no such thing as local pollution , it all end up in Arizona where mama bear will get skinned by the foxes .... so in short we are simply smoking all the conservative , which may I add do not believe in air pollution . I think I will light my fireplace , too bad we no longer can find these wood treated railroad tight they made fine firewood.

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