Wood burning pollution in Bay Area triggers 50th ‘Spare the Air’ alert of 2020 for Saturday

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is issuing the first spare the air alert of winter for Saturday because of pollution from wood burning, hitting a new record with 50 total spare the air days in 2020.

Air quality in Berkeley was “unhealthy for sensitive groups” as of Friday morning, registering a little into the orange level at 111. This means people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teens are suggested to reduce outdoor exposure.

Aaron Richardson, spokesperson for the BAAQMD, said the dip in air quality is due to a mix of stagnant air and pollution from fireplaces — of which there are 1.4 million in the Bay Area — as well as some inflow of air pollution from the Central Valley.

“A high-pressure system in place over Northern California will act like a lid, trapping smoke at ground level,” BAAQMD said in its alert, which bans burning wood, manufactured fire logs or any other solid fuel, indoors and outdoors.

Homes that don’t have permanently installed heating are exempt, and natural gas, electric or propane heat lamps, like those being used for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, are allowed.

As of Friday, smoke pollution from the Bond Fire in Southern California’s Orange County is not making its way to the Bay Area, according to Richardson.

The Bay Area has broken several records this year for air pollution — including a 30-day continuous streak — due to enormous, destructive wildfires that hit every region in California in early fall. This resulted in eerie, orange skies, and several days of unhealthy air quality in Berkeley.