2010 March 3: CA Contra Costa County: Wood-fire reporting increases this season
Complaints by Bay Area residents about neighbors lighting wood fires on no-burn nights rose 63 percent in the second season of a smoke rule, regional clean air regulators reported Wednesday.
The number of people issued letters for suspected violations showed a more modest increase of 22 percent, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said in a report.
Sunday was the end of the four-month burn season. During that time, the air district bans wood fires in fireplaces, stoves and pellet stoves when Spare the Air alerts are issued during episodes of cold, stagnant air that can trap smoke near the ground.
Overall air quality was cleaner in the Bay Area this season because frequent storms in an El Niño winter swept away smoke. The district issued seven Spare the Air alerts, including ones on Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared with 11 alerts the previous season.
Public complaints, however, rose to 2,355 this season, 933 more than the 1,422 complaints the previous season.
"There is increased public awareness of our wood smoke program," said Kristine Roselius, a spokeswoman for the nine-county air pollution district. "There is no doubt the alerts on Thanksgiving and Christmas increased that awareness."
Critics accused the air district of acting like Scrooge on the holidays, but the news coverage drew attention to the rule aimed at protecting the public from asthma attacks, and lung and heart ailments aggravated by smoke
The air district also made it easier to file complaints this season by adding an option to make complaints via the district’s Web site at www.sparetheair.org. Previously, complaints had to be made over the phone.
The district got twice as many complaints online as by phone this season, Roselius said.
Though the district doesn’t disclose complainers’ identifies, some people may have felt more privacy with the online option, she said.
As for violators, the air district sent warning notices to 310 first-time offenders this season, 54 more than last season’s 256 — or a 22 percent increase. First-time offenders pay no fine. Second-time offenders pay $400.
Sonoma County topped the Bay Area with 77 warning letters sent to residents this season, followed by Marin County with 65 and Contra Costa with 48. Alameda County had the seventh most, with 21 warnings.
The district fined eight second-time offenders this season. Just one was fined last season.
"This program is working and the public deserves the credit for both recognizing the hazards of wood smoke and reducing their burning," said Jack Broadbent, the air district’s chief executive officer.
The district had predicted unhealthy air quality on Christmas because of stagnant air, but compliance with the no-burn alert prevented the region from violating the federal health standard for fine particles, Broadbent said.
In an air district survey of 3,000 Bay Area residents this season, 24.8 percent who own fireplaces or stoves said they are burning less because of the smoke rule.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267.
Warning letters for burning on bad air days from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28
Contra Costa 48
Santa Clara 28
San Mateo 27
San Francisco 0
Source: Bay Area Air Quality