The  2012-2013 Winter Spare the Air season ended Feb. 28, with a total of 20 Spare the Air Alerts issued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Although the Winter Spare the Air season began in November, stormy weather helped the Bay Area keep a clean slate in the fall of 2012, until a couple of strong, long-term high pressure systems moved in and accounted for nine of the alerts in January, with an additional alert taking place in early February, the district said in a news release.

"Thanks to reductions in wood burning as a result of the Winter Spare the Air program, we had just one violation of the federal health standard this winter,” said Jack Broadbent, the Air District’s executive officer. “Wood smoke has continued to decrease in the region, but it still poses a formidable public health threat in our neighborhoods and communities.”

This was the fifth winter season that the Air District enforced its Wood Burning Rule that restricts the use of fireplaces, wood stoves and outdoor fire pits throughout the Bay Area when Winter Spare the Air Alerts are in effect.

Surveys and preliminary air quality monitoring data indicate that the Wood Burning Rule has been an effective instrument in reducing wood smoke over the past five years in the Bay Area. This reduction in wood smoke has saved hundreds of millions of dollars in health costs — including hospital and emergency room visits, work loss days and costs associated with higher death rates, the district said.

Wood smoke is the largest source of wintertime air pollution in the Bay Area, containing harmful pollutants such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide, the district reported. Exposure to wood smoke — like cigarette smoke — has been linked to serious respiratory illnesses and even increased risk of heart attacks.

Wood smoke pollution has many of the same components as second-hand cigarette smoke, and is equally hazardous to our health. Breathing particulate pollution accounts for more than 90 percent of premature deaths related to air pollution. In the winter, wood smoke from the 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves in the Bay Area is the single largest contributor to the harmful particulate pollution in the air.

More than 110,000 Bay Area residents are signed up for email AirAlerts, nearly 20,000 receive phone alerts and more than 187,000 calls were placed to the 877-4-NO BURN line to check the daily burn status.

This year, those found to be burning during a Winter Spare the Air Alert for the first time were given the option of taking an online or written wood smoke awareness course in lieu of paying a ticket. To date, 50 Bay Area residents have chosen to take and have passed the wood smoke awareness course.

This number will increase in the coming months as residents respond to violation notices received later in the winter season. Those that violated the rule a second time were subject to a $500 ticket, with fines increasing for subsequent violations.

The Air District received a total of 2,316 wood smoke complaints from residents. A total of 178 tickets were issued to residents who were observed to be in violation of the Wood Burning Rule.

There were 71 complaints from Napa County, and 20 citations written, the district said.

The rule still requires, on a year-round basis, that residents who burn in a fireplace or outdoor fire pit burn cleanly using dry, seasoned firewood and not burn garbage, leaves or other material that would cause excessive smoke. Residents who exceed the visible smoke provision of the Wood Burning Rule could still be subject to a ticket, even outside the November–February Winter Spare the Air season.

(3) comments

Lynn W
Lynn W

I'm sorry, but if a house being heated by wood is against the law certain days, wood burning ovens at all restaurants should also be shut down on those days. Please explain why restaurants can burn wood and homeowners cannot.

Rational One
Rational One

The elephant in the room that EVERYONE of these highly prejudiced articles fails to mention is the common denominator for ANY pollution concern: TOO MANY PEOPLE crammed into a small valley. TOO MUCH building of highrise low rent sardine apartments. TOO many STOP signs which cause more idling of engines. And WHO do you go after? Those trying to stave off enormous heating costs by using their fire places. This article is packed full of so much smoke and mirrors that I am blinded by the poorly veiled inuendo of comparing fireplace warmth to cigarette smoking. It's OBVIOUS what is going on here; creating PEER PRESSURE: neighbor against neighbor. Turn your neighbor in! Be a good little gestapo member! Yea, right! STOP the ridiculous growth, stop making more need for commuter traffic as there will NEVER be enough jobs for all the low wage buildings you're creating: thus: more cars. Grow up and stop the insane increase in population & those who need to can warm homes w/fireplace!


"This reduction in wood smoke has saved hundreds of millions of dollars in health costs — including hospital and emergency room visits, work loss days and costs associated with higher death rates, the district said."

My health premiums are higher than ever. They rose $2000 just last year with no change in benefits.

Please, NVR, can we have a follow up article - maybe even a simple table - that shows us exactly where and how the hundreds of millions were saved over the last five years because of BAAQMD interventions? Talk is cheap. Please show me.

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