Bay Area winter wood-burning ban extends to record 11th day

Bay Area residents will be banned from burning wood for the 11th straight day on Wednesday (Dec. 18).

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a "Winter Spare the Air" alert for Wednesday, the 15th since its winter season began on Nov. 1.

The air district issues alerts and bans wood burning indoors and outdoors on days when it deems air pollution has risen to unhealthy levels in the region.

An ongoing cold weather pattern in the Bay Area has prompted the unprecedented string of consecutive Winter Spare the Air alerts, according to the district, which said Tuesday morning's fire at a recycling facility in Redwood City likely contributed to the elevated pollution levels.

District officials said the cold weather system is expected to weaken later this week, with increasing winds likely to help reduce pollution below unhealthy levels on Thursday.

Only homes without permanently installed heating are exempt from the wood-burning ban.

First-time violators are given the option of taking a wood smoke awareness class in lieu of paying a $100 fine. Subsequent violations result in higher fines.

The daily burn status in the Bay Area can be found online at the BAAQMD or Spare the Air websites, by calling (877) 4-NO-BURN or by signing up for Spare the Air mobile apps.

— Bay City News Service


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Posted by Bill
a resident of Danville
on Dec 18, 2013 at 6:50 am

What I would like to know is really how much does the burning of wood contribute to the air quality and how much on a percentage basis in the exhaust of the thousands of cars. The air quality management office is more like some sort of TSA that loves to show how they can control people. Those who regularly burn wood in fireplaces I would bet contributes less than 1% to bad air when these inversion conditions exist.

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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:22 am

You'd lose that bet. "In many locations, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, wood burning is the single largest source of hazardous particle pollution during winter, creating even more particle pollution than vehicles and industry." Web Link Web Link

Just because you don't like the answer doesn't mean that the people who are acting on solid scientific evidence are "like some sort of TSA that loves to show how they can control people."

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Posted by Alamo Resident
a resident of Alamo
on Dec 18, 2013 at 11:03 am

I had to laugh when I heard yesterday was a 'no burn' day. With the recycling facility burning in Redwood City yesterday, that's all I could smell outside my house last night.

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Posted by Alamo Resident
a resident of Alamo
on Dec 18, 2013 at 11:15 am

...And your two web links have zero in the way of scientific references. Here's an EPA paper comparing wood burning and several other heat sources: Web Link

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Posted by C. R. Mudgeon
a resident of Danville
on Dec 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Alamo Resident, thanks for posting the link to that very interesting EPA article. My "Cliff's Notes" summary is that fireplaces and "old tecchnology" wood stoves aren't too good, in terms of particulates, but that new-technology wood stoves aren't much different than "typical" electricity generation. I say "typical", since the study had to make some assumptions on the original source(s) of the electricity. I forget now if they used national averages for the sources of electricity. (Here in CA, it is my understanding that our electricity-generation sources are skewed more towards natural gas and hydro, and less toward coal, than the national average. This might make our CA-specific particulates impact from electricity somewhat better than shown in the article, but I am just guessing....)

It was also surprising to me that wood-burning looked as good as it did, in terms of green house gases.

In any case, spare-the-air "rules" in our area are entirely governed by particulates measures during the winter months, and are basically governed by ozone during the summer. It is also true that we have more spare the air days declared, than we have days in which national and CA limits are exceeded. For some stats on this, see this link:

Web Link

I think the spare-the-air days are based on particulate data, but it is arguable whether the "spare-the-air declarers" (hey, I like the ring of that) are being overly aggressive, or not. It's also true that the standards are tighter now, than they used to be.

In the last day or two, it is also very probable that any air-quality issues were due to the double-whammy of the recycling-center fire in Redwood City, coupled with the forest/brush fire down in Big Sur (with unfavorable winds pushing it up to the Bay Area, especially on the peninsula).

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Posted by Alamo Resident
a resident of Alamo
on Dec 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm

CR-Newer technology is definitely much better. We have a place in the Santa Cruz mountains that's completely wood-heated. The two stoves, a Morso Squirrel and Lopi Answer, produce almost no smoke when using properly seasoned wood. The secondary burn combusts almost all particulate-similar to the pellet stove I have at home. Now my open fireplace, which is used once or twice a year, is completely inefficient.

I have Christmas Day memories of my grandfather un-decorating the Christmas tree, cutting it into pieces with a hand saw on a tarp in the living room, and sticking the branches and trunk into the open fireplace. Good times, right there.

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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Dec 18, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Alamo Resident, the 1998 paper co-written by members of the Hearth Products Association (!) simply confirms that wood fires have the highest emission rate of fine particulates of any heat source - worse than coal. Those particulates are indeed what create the health hazard: Web Link

There is no shortage of documentation at all levels of academic formality which confirm that basic fact: wood fires emit fine particulates, which are a health hazard. And simple fireplaces such as are common in this area are, as CRM correctly notes, the worst offenders.

Wood fires are in fact carbon neutral, as the carbon released was was taken out of the atmosphere in recent times by the tree from whence the wood came (unlike fossil fuels, which release carbon which was stored millenia ago.) However, since a standard fireplace is net negative in terms of house warming, you'll need to burn even more natural gas to make up for the heat lost up the chimney, with the result that a fireplace fire contributes to greenhouse gasses by resulting in the burning of more, not less, fossil fuels.

New technology wood stoves are much better, but there are few (for obvious reasons) in this area.

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Posted by Choking and Wheezing
a resident of Danville
on Dec 19, 2013 at 8:52 am

Besides the good responses by Huh and CR, you can't deny the uncomfortable feeling of breathing smoke from your neighbor's smoking chimney for hours at a time. Why should they be allowed to poison the air that I must breathe?

PS: I used to heat a former house in the country with an efficient wood burning stove.

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Posted by Julia
a resident of Alamo
on Dec 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm

These bans are such a bunch of bullcrap!

Thanks for listening.

Julia Pardini from Alamo

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Posted by jake
a resident of Alamo
on Dec 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Sometimes we overdo a good thing to its detriment. People in this area don't heat their home with wood; it is mostly aesthetic & supplemental. And many don't use them due to hassle of wood storage and ash residue. Yet, in those rare occasions (Txgvg, Xmas) when a nice fire would enhance the gatherings we are forbidden to have one; regardless of new technology or not. Actually you can not get a building permit to construct a wood burning fireplace as an addition or in a new home. So for the purists, easily offended/disturbed, and the control freaks no amount of data or common sense will persuade them otherwise. Personally, I'll tolerate them and the effect of their life style on me if they spare me an occasional warm fire. Merry Chrismas and Happy Holidays to all.

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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Dec 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm

The self-centered, self-righteous, fatuous elitism of the local residents with their over-developed sense of entitlement is a never ending source of sadness for me. The posts of Julia and her ilk reek of the attitude that: "'other people' are less worthy than me; if ***I*** want to do something I'm entitled to do it, and their health, safety, and simple right not to have to suffer the consequences of my selfish whims are insignificant."

It would be interesting to see how the oh-so-entitled folk would cope if they were thrust into the real world without their wealth and other advantages which they have come to take for granted. Somehow I think their certainty as to their innate superiority over the "common folk" would not fare too well.

jake: the "spare the air" days are scheduled when atmospheric inversions as gauged by scientific evidence warrants it, not by holidays. There's no "control freak" or "purist" aspect to it. When the wind blows enough to spare your neighbors the consequences of your choices, go ahead. But when the air is trapped and stagnant, their right to breathe unpolluted air trumps your desire to have a decorative fire in your fireplace. What's "overdone" is the affluent local residents' sense of entitlement and their conviction that they should have the right to do whatever they want, regardless of the impacts on others - and ***their*** willingness to ignore data, common sense and sound scientific evidence when it's "inconvenient."

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Posted by Tom
a resident of Walnut Creek
on Dec 23, 2013 at 1:53 pm

The ARB issues the spare the air days with a wide stroke brush. Not allowing even the smallest of baby webber to be lit for one's own single serving of meat illustrates this. Placing the anything goes fireplace with damp wood is "legal" on burn days to the pellet or very clean burning epa approved wood burning units is not a fair comparison. Enforcing those who burn with epa approved appliances vs. non approved outdated technology would be nearly impossible for ARB. Also it places low income folks into the "unfair treatment" zone. The lion's share of ARB complaints have stemmed from Marin County where wood smoke greatly impacts hikers and dog walkers on the trails. The geographic area itself as well as those who have had old wood burning units for decades make the problem there the worst in the bay area. Wood being carbon zero or even negative does have advantages toward the planet and the C02 issues. Over population of the bay area from the pack em stack em crowd should also be considered towards air quality yet it never is.

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