Wood Smoke Pie Chart
Sources of winter air pollution in the Bay Area

Sunday marked the start of the Winter Spare the Air season in the Bay Area. Until the end of February, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District declares a spare the air alert when the air quality forecast indicates dangerous conditions. When an alert is active, the use of wood-burning devices is prohibited. Last year, there were 11 alert days. The agency’s expectation is that the winter season will average 15 to 20 alerts.

“Wood-burning fires are the largest source of air pollution in the wintertime,” says Kristine Roselius, spokesperson for the Air District. “There are 1.4 million wood-burning fireplaces in the Bay Area and when we have cold, still nights and days, the smoke just hangs there.”

This is the second winter with the wood-burning regulations in effect. Last year, there were 1,453 complaints about violations and the Air District sent out 254 warning letters for a first violation. A second violation incurs a $400 fine, and subsequent violations are fined for increasing amounts, depending on the severity of the violation.

Air quality forecasts are issued at 2pm each day. If the forecast triggers an alert, it runs from midnight to midnight of the next day. You can check for alerts by visiting the Air District’s website or the Spare the Air website, phoning 1-877-4-NO-BURN, or by registering for email alerts at Spare the Air or phone alerts at 1-800-430-1515.

Roselius says the Air District discourages wood burning even on non-alert days, because of the pollutants in wood smoke. The Air District has offered rebates in the past to encourage a switch to gas-burning fireplaces, but no rebates are available this year.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...