SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Unusual weather conditions have caused the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to call eight Winter Spare the Air days so far this year.

The alerts have inspectors busy and citizens on patrol as they try to crack down on those breaking the law.

It’s been more than three years since the District banned wood burning on Winter Spare the Air days. Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesman Ralph Borrmann said they have seen a 15 percent reduction in toxic soot levels during the winter.

KCBS’ Janice Wright Reports:

“That could be from a combination of sources, but a significant reason is this ban on wood burning,” said Borrmann.

He said citizens have gotten the message as the agency has received 1,400 phone calls and emails since November, complaining about people burning wood.

What happens to those complaints? The 60 inspectors on duty, who normally spend their time visiting factories and other industry, patrol on Spare the Air days.

“The first time a residence is found to be burning on a Spare the Air Day, it’s a warning letter,” said Borrmann. “The second time is a $400 fine.”

There already have been about 200 people with two offenses, but Borrmann said it is a long process to try to verify the violations.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (19)
  1. TheZip says:

    This is all such a joke. A Winter Spare the Air Day is in effect tonight. This is supposed to occur when there is so called air stagnation. The current weather in San Jose has a 12 mph wind blowing from the West-Northwest. Does anyone see this as a little ludicrous? You can’t have air stagnation when the wind is blowing. These things are just called as a form of environmental “speed trap”. No technical reason just a scam to find a way to try to collect revenue from people by fining them.

    1. Valleyboy says:

      Sorry, dude, your comment is a joke. What the weather is doing at your particular area is highly irrelevant. What is going on in the area AS A WHOLE is what is important.

      Furrther, the Spare the Air folks are completely dependent on the accuracy of the weather forecast, which is pretty good, but certainly not bulletproof. They are therefore just as likely NOT to make a Spare the Air day when the should as to make one when they shouldn’t.

      I’m one of those folks who are very VERY happy that old fashioned fireplaces have been effectively outlawed in new construction. I believe they should be outlawed period, in other words, when you sell the house, the fireplace has to be made in compliance regardless, either decommisioned or converted to a modern system.

      You have ABSOLUTELY *NO* right to pollute my air.

    2. aguesticles says:

      there is no one that has received a ticket yet
      how can they prove you are burning wood?
      i hope they have infared video capabilites
      burn what you want

  2. John John G says:

    Here in San Mateo I cannot breath. Spare the air or not, but smog is blanketing the whole residential area. I cannot open window. Even with closed window the smog penetrates into the house causing irritation, coughing and sneezing. People, who burn wood are evil!

  3. Enemy of the State says:

    Zip,, you are very correct, same in my location except the winds more like 20mph. You know what I say? F these chimney Nazis, I’m burning wood right now and have been all week!! Kalifornia is just out of control. Do you know that they now have their sights on BBQ’s? Again,, F them, the day they outlaw BBQng is the day we have civil war in this country, and no, I’m not joking!

    To John John: get a life! I was just in San Mateo and there is NOTHING that resembles smog. From your posting, one can tell you are so full of it and just want to stir it up. If the area bothers you so much, LEAVE! OK, so I am evil,,,good! I have severe, and I mean severe,allergies in the late spring.. Am I going around telling people to uproot their grass and flowers and such? No! I just deal with it since shots can’t do much for me anymore. God, I hate the Bay Area but I’m staying around in order to burn more wood!

    1. so true says:

      i completely agree!

      1. Bay Area Guy says:

        Its people like John John who ruin it for the rest of us. I’m Fortunate in that my neighbors LIKE the smell of my fire place. One of my neighbors tells me all the time he like it best when I burn Oak, but also likes the cedar. I have a Stove insert so when I burn there is VERY little smoke. I get the feeling this Air Quality Board is a big Government scam, built by PG&E to make us use their product and for the city’s to make money off fines.

  4. spare me! says:

    ridiculous…on spare the air days you don’t see them banning us from using cars! Cuz that would be insane So they try to control us by imposing this absurd “law” that we can’t warm ourselves without the use of electricity whenever they say?? How communist is that? Millions of cars can drive around on spare the air days but no household can burn wood on spare the air nights…and notice I said household…they don’t require restaurants or other businesses to comply…how does this board get away with this? Me thinks a kickback from PG&E is involved…..

    1. so true says:

      that’s exactly what i’ve been saying!! they don’t ban cars in the summer so how dare they ban us from burning wood in our fireplace. cold winter nights are when fireplaces come in handy. this law is ridiculous and i think it infringes on our rights.

      1. Valleyboy says:

        @so true:

        You have NO right to pollute MY air. You can pollute YOUR air as much as you want, but MY air, not at all.

        Burning wood is about the most inefficient and ineffective way to heat your home imaginable. Yes, you maybe save some cash up front, but 99% of fire places are designed by architects or designers for appearance, almost NO fireplace is properly designed for heating.

  5. Ceciltakeadolla says:

    Every single one of you is right (with the exception of John John). Big Brother is watching!!!

  6. Rosinante says:

    Your all right except that Nut John John.
    Some explanation is in order though to find out how incidious the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is.
    First, its not a “Law” it is a regulation. Not needing approval by the voters.
    Second, to make it a bay area “no burn” day ANY and I repeat ANY of the Bay Area Districts can have a PM day over there limit and BAAQMD will pull down the Whole Bay Area. So if any one district say Oakland is having a bad day , THE WHOLE BAY AREA GOES DOWN. You can’t stop these people unless you stop there funding and thats pretty hard to do. not impossible but very difficult.
    Another point that bothers me. 60 inspectors! Wow! What do they do in the Summer? What are there salaries? Who are these neighbors who turn in neighbors. The same ones who I share neighborhood watch with? Thats right out of Orwell or the USSR!
    I hear on the Grapevine that you can call in your neighbor and BAAQMD will issue a warning letter without any evidence. Just your neighbors word. Not under oath I might add. And the same for the “$400” fine.
    I can’t speak for others but I send all my virgin wood to the recology people. And all the wood thats painted or plywood to the Hazardious waste facility at Altomont. Noting all the costs and diesel, no make that biodiesel used to get it there from San Mateo.
    If this bothers you? This scares the hell out of me

    1. ezr vinh says:

      “I hear on the Grapevine that you can call in your neighbor and BAAQMD will issue a warning letter without any evidence. Just your neighbors word.”

      If you read the FAQ on the Spare the Air website an “inspector has to witness the violation.”

      1. Rosinante says:

        All Sixty Inspectors adhere to this policy and so does the office staff I’m sure.
        Just like the statement “So far this season (blank days) have been no burn days. When in fact they quote the annual total and not the seasonal total. There is a difference. BAAQMD just flops back and forth. What ever gives them highest number to gain sympathy.
        They BAAQMD also declared “no burn” for Thanksgiving and Christmas last season and they themselves stated it was for the public to learn about and call attention to “no burn days” even though those particular days didn’t meet the limits.
        Yes I have read a good percentage of the website its really large and loaded with tons of propaganda. Check out the data on there justification for what they do. In addition to the Federal EPA regs. Check out the 4000 asmatic “Children” there’s that sacred word again, who live in Oakland. Not any where , just Oakland. You don’t think that with the lower income groups who use taxpayer subsidized medical care in these areas don’t pump up the numbers of Doctor visits creating more justification for “no burn days” do you. I guess not.
        We all know the real truth and your agenda. Control over someone else. Otherwise you would be in China or India demanding “no burn days”.
        You scare the hell out of me! BAAQMD and

  7. Valleyboy says:


    I wish they would make the Spare the Air days stronger and more frequent and the fines for ignoring the law meaningful, like say $10,000/day.

    I look forward to having some non-polluted air, and yet, I can only get it the day of a nice cold day, because as soon as the air gets clean after a rain and gets cold, all the fireplace polluters get busy and stink up the place.

    You have NO rights to pollute my air. Pollute your own as much as you want, but my air is MY air, not yours to do whatever you want with.

    1. Rosinante says:

      You could extrapolate this out to its end. That is as I see it something like this.

      As long as I do what YOU want, my behavior is OK. But when I cross the line then I’m stepping on your rights. And my behavior becomes unacceptable. OK makes sense.

      The data and methods of how you go about imposing these restrictions and trampling of other peoples rights as well as your own. Fit into the Draconian category rather than Democratic. Thats all. BAAQMD uses a lot of facts and figures that don’t add up and are more like propaganda than truth to get your and there points across. (Shades of”An inconvient Truth.”)

      Besides will we be talking about this next month? If so I’ll see you in the smoking lounge for a continued discussion. Oh and by the way “They don’t allow POT in the smoking lounge’ I still can’t figure that one out…

      1. Valleyboy says:

        First, get this straight. I don’t give a flying f*** about what you do. I want clean air for myself. If you pollute MY air, then your behavior is unacceptable. If you want to pollute YOUR air, then go ahead and knock yourself out. Smoke whatever YOU want, as long as I don’t have to pay for it, and enjoy yourself.

        To restate the obvious, no one, including you and I, has any right whatsoever to take a common good, such as the natural, clean air, or natural clean ocean, or the natural “clean” radio spectrum, to name the obvious well-lawyered examples, and either take it for ourselves, or ruin it’s use for others. There is no “right to pollute” any more than there is a right to build your house on public property.

        Imposing restrictions on rights you don’t have is not draconian in any way. I’m sorry you believe you have some right to pollute somebody else’s air, but you don’t, and never did.

        BAAQMD, like all bureacracies, has it’s shortcomings, limitations, and mistakes and errors. No doubt about it at all. My friend opened a business and they were all over him because he used epoxy resins, a known pollutant, even though his business was 10 yds from hwy 101, and 180,000 polluting cars. No, it didn’t make practical sense, but those are the rules.

        Nevertheless, they are what we have at the local level to keep the air clean.

        They do a poor job because they are overly sensitive to the construction and real estate industry, and not sensitive enough to the majority of the people breathing Bay Area air.

        The irrefutable fact is that the number one pollutant in the winter is particulate matter from burning fireplaces. Old fireplaces. if they can eliminate this source of pollution, then we are all better off, including you. They have a limited number of rather clumsy tools, again, no doubt about it. But those are the tools they have.

        Rather than have these silly and expense “no burn” days, my preference is mandatory conversion of fireplaces when the house changes hands, just like septic systems have to be converted to use city sewage. You want a fireplace, fine with me, then upgrade it to current codes. Otherwise, destroy it. Your choice. Do whatever you want. Just keep your pollution to yourself.

        BTW, I don’t understand the POT restriction either. Smoking is smoking as far as I’m concerned. You are a grown up. As long as I don’t have to pay, I don’t care.

  8. Rosinante says:

    I see your point. I don’t care for the forced methods though. I prefer choice. And the government doesn’t have to lie or fudge the data to get me to change. I just build a house without a Fire Place. No harm, No fowl. Because I wanted to not because I was forced to.

    After all its our money funding BAAQMD. I know I know your going to say we wouldn’t need them if the air was pure. But it isn’t. So what do we do when PM is at Zero. We still have the other 49 % of the spectrum to deal with. Then on to China and India right?

    Oh! BTW we still have the forced control of Fat People, Diabetics, People over 60 and infants under 7 months to deal with in paying for there health care don’t we.

    Let the whole world become Jains and we should be able to solve the problem then.

    As long as I don’t have to pay, I don’t care either. But we do one way or the other.

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