The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is issuing the winter season's first Spare the Air Alert for Friday, calling for people to abstain from burning wood, manufactured fire logs or any other solid fuel in fireplaces or outdoors.
Though a raging fire in the fireplace can make for a cozy holiday weekend, the smoke can cause unhealthy air quality, the district said. High pressure over Northern California will act like a lid, trapping smoke at ground level. Offshore winds may also transport air pollution from the Central Valley into the Bay Area.
Burning fuels on a Spare the Air day is not just discouraged, it's also illegal, though people who rely on wood stoves or fireplaces as their only source of heat are permitted to use them. However, such households must use U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified or pellet-fueled devices that are registered with the Air District. Open-hearth fireplaces no longer qualify for exemptions, the district said.
"Residents can help protect the respiratory health of their families and communities by refraining from wood burning — the number one source of wintertime air pollution in the Bay Area," said Sharon Landers, the district's interim executive officer.
In San Francisco, the National Park Service has also prohibited recreational beach fires at Ocean Beach and in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area through the end of February.
People found violating Spare the Air orders will be asked to take a wood smoke awareness course; those who do not partake in that education will be given a $100 ticket. People with second violations are subject to a $500 ticket, with the ticket amount increasing for any subsequent violations.