Wood burning banned on Xmas eve, possibly Christmas Day

Put away the chestnuts; the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has announced that wood burning will be banned in the region on Christmas Eve -- and possibly on Christmas Day, too.

Tuesday will be the 17th "Winter Spare the Air" day of the season, and the air district will decide that day whether wood burning will also be banned on Christmas.

"The weather forecast looks like we might see another Spare the Air day for Christmas Day," air district spokesman Tom Flannigan said.

He explained that winds are light, and the weather is forecast to be dry and mild in the region mid-week. The stagnant air has allowed pollutants to accumulate close to the ground, making the air unhealthy to breathe, Flannigan said.

"We haven't been seeing the rain we usually get that helps clean out the air," he said.

It wouldn't be the first time the air district has issued a Spare the Air alert for Christmas; it has happened two other times since the alerts began in 2008, Flannigan said.

It sounds Scrooge-like to tell residents they can't gather around the fire during the holidays, but air quality officials are asking people to keep in mind the reasons for the ban and realize that it's not just the air district saying, "Bah, humbug!"

"We're not picking these days for the fun of it or anything, it completely has to do with the science behind air pollution," he said.

Flannigan pointed out that children, the elderly and those with asthma and other respiratory problems suffer when the air is thick with unhealthy particulate matter.

He said a fire in the fireplace "looks nice inside your house, and you can't see the effects it has on other people."

On Winter Spare the Air days, the burning of wood, manufactured fire logs or any other solid fuel is illegal both indoors and outdoors. Homes that depend on woodstoves or fireplaces as their only source of heat are exempt from the ban.

Those who get in trouble for violating the ban for the first time are given the choice of paying $100 or taking a wood smoke awareness class. Subsequent violations are met with fines of $500 or more.

Bay Area residents are advised to check the region's burn status before lighting a fire on any given day by visiting the air district's website at or calling (877) 4-NO-BURN.

Flannigan thanked Bay Area residents in advance for observing the wood-burning ban even though it might put a damper on their holiday celebrations. "By not burning wood, you're helping to create a healthier breathing environment for everyone in the Bay Area," he said.

Winter Spare the Air season runs from Nov. 1 to Feb. 28.

— Bay City News Service


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 23, 2013 at 7:25 pm

There should be an exception to this rule for holidays. Bah humbug to whatever faceless bureaucrat came up with this system.

Posted by about time, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm

From the Dumbarton Bridge, you can easily see the Bay Area air quality with your own eyes. Just look towards the horizon in any direction. For the past couple of days, the air has been getting browner and browner. I'm surprised they took this long to issue an air quality warning.

Please folks, use common sense. Don't light up on sunny days. If you must light a fire, do it only on rainy days. Your kids health is at stake. Thank you.

Posted by Bah Humbug?? r u kidding?!?, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 23, 2013 at 9:31 pm

"Bah humbug to whatever faceless bureaucrat came up with this system."

And to the kids with asthma, as well, Joe?

Let your political ideology, and your zealotry against public servants, rest for the holidays, and think of those with breathing difficulties.

You will feel better.

Posted by Will Light Up, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 24, 2013 at 4:09 am

We will be lighting up for Christmas, regardless what these clowns say. They did the same thing for Thanksgiving. They just don't want people to have lit fire places on holidays. So Bah Humbug to them. They have ZERO enforcement capability for this, and I am getting tired of this happening EVERY single Thanksgiving and Christmas. Go pick on Hanukkah or Eid or Kwanzaa you cheese eating surrender monkeys. Scientific basis my behind. Light em up this Holidays and disregard these intrusive clowns that are picking on our Holidays when we want to have a nice fire.

Posted by Bah Humbug?? r u kidding?!?, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 24, 2013 at 9:14 am

"They just don't want people to have lit fire places on holidays."

Amazing. Sure, they live all year with the single goal to ruin your holiday by not having a wood burning fire. All about you, say what?

For those with empathy, here's some tips to help your neighbors with breathing difficulties Web Link

May your Christmas gift be never having to struggle to draw your breath. Ho, ho, ho.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 24, 2013 at 11:19 am

Way to show community spirit, Will Light Up.

Given that it's Jesus' birthday that's ostensibly being celebrated, I wonder what he would do. Or Pope Francis for that matter. I'm an atheist, but I admire excellence of character where I find it.

Unapologetic arrogance and being a scofflaw are behaviors we can do without. There is no question that they are not in keeping with the spirit of the season.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Will Light Up - my husband and I are still laughing at your comment. We sure love cheese!

We understand your sentiment, but there is good reason for the ban. Have you ever had a hard time breathing, or been around anyone who has? It's terrifying and so incredibly dangerous. Have you ever had to be on oxygen in the hospital, or have your loved ones?

What gets me about the ban is that it seem pretty ironic given the TWO fires at Simms in the past 5 weeks. These bans are a drop in the bucket - unless you have a respiratory issue. THEN you understand and appreciate them.

Posted by wondering, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Does Sims know about this?

Posted by Will Light Up, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 25, 2013 at 12:13 am

We had a great Christmas Eve, with a roaring fire, and no I didn't rush outside and see if anyone had difficulty breathing. I also enjoyed a nice Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich tonight in the privacy of my kitchen, without worrying if any of the neighbors passing by, might suddenly have a massive allergy attack because they suffer from a potential lethal peanut allergy. I can not tell you how many insufferable busy bodies one encounters when I ride off on my bike without a bike helmet or flak vest. Of course every single one of these busy bodies, are equally horrified if I happen to walk downstairs from my bedroom without wearing a "stair helmet", for "my safety". Enough of this nonsense. I also do not sit on a "booster seat" when I drive off to buy firewood for my Christmas Fire. Can you imagine, these pathetic clowns are trying to regulate whether I can light a yule log on Christmas Day in the comfort of my house. They actually suggested parents do the "right environmental thing" and explain the situation to their children. The official solution is "Scratch the fire, cut out a picture of a glowing fireplace and tape it over the mantle." Unbelievable. The only WARM comfort I get is knowing they have NO WAY OF ENFORCING THIS STUPID LAW. What next, no Christmas underwear or socks for fear of offending some Muslim or Buddhist? Take that picture of a glowing fireplace and light it up to start your Yule Time cheer. Take back the country, and surf the internet freely by a roaring fire this Christmas without worrying if Obama's NSA is recording every one of your clicks. If a passer by has breathing problems, remember they are "required" to have "health insurance" should they need to visit the emergency room. Oh wait ... wasn't that postponed a year? We had a government shut down over postponing this a year, and then wound up doing exactly that, segmented population at a time. "Rendez-vous, singes mangeurs de fromage"

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 26, 2013 at 10:51 am

Mangeurs de fromage, en effet. Le fromage est le meilleur!

I stand by my points.

Enforcement on this issue is not done in part, I think, because government has a mission statement that includes trying to be reasonable, to not be a stand-in for Ebenezer Scrooge. The assumption is that citizens will appreciate this and act in good faith.

That idea and others like it -- noblesse oblige, for example -- have been under determined assault for decades. I could go on as to who started all this, but I've outgrown schoolyard taunts, I hope.

If there is a pendulum swinging, I hope it is heading away from the selfish end of the spectrum. With as many serious issues as we are facing, we can't afford to be selfish.

Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of another community
on Dec 26, 2013 at 11:25 am

On the news the other day, they announced the first fine for this violation was $100, and fine for the 2nd = $500, in the Bay Area. I don't know where enforcement comes from - maybe the fire dept?

Posted by wondering, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 26, 2013 at 11:53 am

I'm just thrilled to see that at least one person is using this ban as an excuse to bash non-Christians. Because, you know, we're the majority so we make all the rules to meet our personal needs.

Posted by Agree, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Comments about non-christians aside I agree that the ban is often ridiculous. When I look at the air quality in our area it is fine, the quality in the North Bay or down in San Jose is a couple points over some imaginary line and so the entire Bay Area is banned from having a fire. I enjoy a nice fire for several reasons, it is beautiful, it is a nice way to heat part of my house, it brings the family together. So while everyone argues about cheese and Muslims or Buddists I just want to enjoy a nice fire when the air quality in my section of the Bay Are is not at an unhealthy level. (Tomorrow we will be "Moderate" yet it is still "illegal" to have a fire).

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 26, 2013 at 8:19 pm


you must be blind if you think our air quality is "fine." It's starting to remind me of the air quality of the 70's when I first moved here. During the summer, depending on where you were, often you couldn't even see the hills for the smog.

Posted by wondering, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I agree with MV. I went to San Francisco on Tuesday and could not remember the last time the air looked so dirty. I had my camera and was trying to take pictures but it was way too hazy to get good landscape shots.

Posted by Guy Man, a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Dec 27, 2013 at 8:19 am

Enforcement probably comes via the police and they will be tipped off by snitching neighbors.

Wish it would rain just a little bit.

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2013 at 8:48 am

Enforcement is by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. They have a few inspectors who primarily respond to complaints, especially repeated ones. There are some self-centered curmudgeons who refuse to accept that their behavior can negatively affect others, but they are on the way out. The younger generation seems to understand, so there is hope for the future.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:30 am

I like fresh air, I don't like an organization encouraging Americans to Anonymously turn in their neighbors. That is just a bad idea from the get go. They also have an AA like meetings for those of us who have fire starting urges we can't control.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 27, 2013 at 12:20 pm

With transcontinental pollution, why hasn't anyone measured (or revealed the results) of the air on non-burn days to compare it when burning is allowed? Will it will confirm those burning wood with non visible smoke make a less than signifcant difference in air quality? Not all Americans with a fireplace burn at the same time.
Does it bother anyone that the Air quality resource board took data from PORTLAND OREGON, not the bay area when they came up with the regulations? The head of the Air Quality Resource Board admitted this on KQED's Forum which also the chair who lives with asthma making her less than impartial.
Wood fires help supplement residential heat instead of paying PG&E for the right to stay warm. PG&E is cashing in!

Posted by Registered Republican, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 27, 2013 at 2:49 pm

We still live in a world where people think wood smoke its harmless?
Bottom line: wood smoke is hazardous to your health (unless you believe that cigarette smoke isn't dangerous, in which case there is no point in these discussions). Numerous studies outline the risks. It's pretty clear you haven't known anyone with COPD - look it up on Wiki - but of course you think Wikipedia is a liberal conspiracy so you wouldn't...
Wood smoke is hazardous to your neighborhood's health during weather that causes inversions. In thinly populated places like Wyoming and Iowa you can burn wood to your heart's content without endangering others (except for global warming, but I'm betting you don't believe in that either).
It's basically like speed limits on cars. Sure, you have the right to drive your car - if you are going to be responsible with it. Everyone thinks they can handle their car at whatever speed they are comfortable with, and of course they wouldn't hurt anyone else with their car, but the empirical evidence is that drivers who like speed do kill plenty of innocent people. So we had to create laws to cut down on innocents being killed. Same with wood smoke. A few bad apples like you ruin it for the rest of us by forcing the government to step in to create laws and tax us to enforce them.

Posted by Scott McMahon, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 29, 2013 at 9:32 am

In my neighborhood, on inversion days, the smoke from fireplaces stays low to the ground and doesn't disperse. It settles in around the block where the fireplace is going and stays. I like to walk outside in the neighborhood, and on some blocks it's like touring the inside of a smokehouse. Imagine how smoky it would get if every fireplace on the block was lit. Luckily, no one on my block is like "Will Light Up."

Posted by Will Light Up, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm

When you stop driving your car, as well as the millions that drive on 101 and Marsh Road where I live, then you can complain about air pollution. The fact is that your car dispenses more particulate matter into the air when you drive to the supermarket, polluting all of our lungs, then my fire on Christmas Day ever will. I don't need to imagine how smokey it will get with all the cars on the road over the holidays. I just need to step outside and see. It's the cars, silly, not my fireplace. Folks complaining about fireplaces over Christmas are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, its a waste of time. Focus on the problem and keep your paws off of my Christmas holiday celebration.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 29, 2013 at 2:54 pm

It's time to deploy a 50-cent word: unreconstructed.

I'm talkin' to you, Will Light Up.

Posted by agree, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 29, 2013 at 5:15 pm

If you look at the website "" for Sunday, which is an "illegal to burn" day you would see that the air quality readings for our area is 89, the reading for every area north of Sunnyvale is below 100 which is considered "Moderate". The only area that is shown as "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" and over that by a whopping 1 point in 50 is Sunnyvale south. So explain to me why everyone can't burn. Maybe some of you folks would like to make California one zone and if the quality in Los Angeles is one point over make it illegal to burn through out the state? Everyone is making a big deal about burning wood, while we are getting more pollution blown over from China (the don't have "No burn days" there) and from vehicles and industrial pollutants. Why not go attack those targets and leave the person trying to keep their house comfortable alone? Yes I will continue to burn wood and you can deal with it.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm


everyone can't burn because the prevailing winds blow south which explains the terrible air rom Sunnyvale south.

Posted by Will Light Up, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 30, 2013 at 3:05 am

No restrictions today, so that cord of wood I have out back is getting burned in my fireplace. For those of you that are concerned, put away your car keys and walk and use public transportation. You are the ones that are polluting the air, every day and in massive quantities. I love my fireplace and hate your cars.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 30, 2013 at 1:05 pm

@Will Light Up -
Your equating the pollution from wood fires with that from modern car engines is misleading and uninformed at best. The two are not equivalent.

Burning wood releases a conglomeration of chemicals into the air. According to the EPA, aside from the carbon monoxide produced when burning many different materials, burning wood also produces "methane. . . formaldehyde . . . benzene" and a slew of hydrocarbons linked or possibly linked to cancer. Not only does burning wood release dangerous chemicals into the air, but it releases many of those chemicals as soot particles and liquid tar droplets, according to Traci Watson, writing for
Cancer has been linked to many of the various hydrocarbons emitted in wood smoke. The particle and liquid emissions of wood burning increase the likelihood of heart disease and asthma attacks as well. This latter effect of wood burning causes thousands of deaths in the USA each year.
According to a 1989 study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, wood smoke is chemically active in the body 40 times longer than tobacco. There are rafts of studies with similar conclusions about the health risks of exposure to particulate pollution.

Posted by Will Light Up, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 30, 2013 at 1:52 pm

To the uninformed or geriatric community that does not know how to use the internet or get informed on air pollution, lets go over it one more time slowly, especially you, Steve,

The main cause of air pollution is your car. Nothing comes even close to it. Not the guy smoking a cigarette next to your house, not your neighbor enjoying his fireplace over Christmas or the guy grilling his steak. Just get real. There are so many sources of information out there that make this crystal clear that it pains me to see you contorting yourself to try to convince anyone that "modern" car engines are our salvation, and guys enjoying their fireplaces are evil incarnate. [Portion removed; personal attacks of other posters violate terms of use.]

Since emission from automobile tailpipes is the major source of air pollution in the Bay Area, the considerable number of San Francisco visitors and commuters who drive to the city contribute to air pollution. It appears that, based on the projections of the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG), employment in San Francisco will continue to increase at a faster rate than its residential population. This will result in more commute trips which could result in greater air pollution, especially if these trips are made by single occupant automobiles.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by 100% bicycle commuter, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2013 at 4:01 pm

@Will Light Up:

Would you mind linking to your sources supporting your claim that light-weight gasoline vehicle traffic ("your car") is emitting substantially more PM_{2.5} and related pollutants than wood fire stoves? All the credible sources I find support the opposite claim.

For example, if you follow the "Air Emission Sources" link on this EPA site (Web Link) and look up data for Santa Clara County, you'll see that residential wood combustion contributes more than 4.8 times as much PM_{2.5} as on-road gasoline light duty vehicles.

This op-ed (Web Link) provides a complementary discussion, though of course raw data from the EPA should be trusted more than any media reporting or op-ed.

I follow reason as much as I can. If you provide credible sources supporting your claim or point out a flaw in my interpretation of the data, then I will agree with your statement concerning mitigation priorities. Until then, I assert that you are rationalizing your behavior based on faulty information. By the way, I don't drive and want others (who are able) to realize the freedom and health benefits of bicycle commuting, so I definitely agree with you that we should push for less unnecessary traffic.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 30, 2013 at 4:24 pm

More particulate matter is stirred up by leaf blowers, either gas or the electric ones plugged into a gas burning generator (real effective there) and lingers in the air which settles everywhere including your lungs more than wood fires with non visible smoke fires hope to emit. Does anyone believe the carbon puffing from a diesel engine is good?
Why is no-one bothered by the lack of due process with this oppressive system where the inspectors do not knock on someone's door to confirm if a fire on the non-burn day is the primary heat source? Instead they just slap a fine on someone. Guilty first without due process but a resident can take a wood buring condescending for an otherwise LEGAL activity!
Converting wood to heat is eco friendly because it lessens the load on the landfills. BTW:I will bicycle commute when there is a concrete barrier between me and motorvehicles...too much distracted driving.

Posted by Tonto, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 30, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Kemosabe, you can't read smoke signals at night.

Posted by 100% bicycle commuter, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2013 at 6:10 pm


"More particulate matter is stirred up by leaf blowers"

Spare the Air Days are meant to address PM_{2.5}. For these particulate sizes, the emitted mass due to residential wood burning exceeds that of non-construction dust sources in Santa Clara County according to the EPA data. However, these dust sources produce more PM_{10} than residential wood burning (and every other source, by the way, and by a lot).

"the inspectors do not knock on someone's door to confirm if a fire on the non-burn day is the primary heat source"

Are you sure? According to the website (Web Link), "An Air District Notice of Violation (NOV) for a residence or business that violates the wood smoke regulation can be issued only if an Air District inspector personally observes and documents the violation." I interpret that sentence to mean that all aspects of the alleged violation, including whether the wood fire is the sole source of heating in the home, must be documented before a fine can be issued.

Posted by Marty, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 30, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Why is it invariably Thanksgiving and Xmas that have the no wood burning bans?

It seems more than just coincidence that those are the days that the weather is supposedly bad.

If we must be smoke free, how about banning barbeques. Not only is the smoke obnoxious, the toxic smell of firelighter fuel used to get the coals going is nauseating.

As someone who does get bothered by wood fires and smokey BBQs, I don't find it all that difficult to close my windows and stay inside. Better that than the bureaucracy that goes with these bans, not to mention the encouragement give to whiners to tell on their neighbors. Are we living in China or Russia where reporting one's neighbors to the 'Party' is rewarded?

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 30, 2013 at 10:55 pm

@Will Light Up -
I recommend you read this post from Sam Harris that he titles "The Fireplace Delusion". He's talking about you. I include just the most succinct paragraph below.
Web Link
"The unhappy truth about burning wood has been scientifically established to a moral certainty: That nice, cozy fire in your fireplace is bad for you. It is bad for your children. It is bad for your neighbors and their children. Burning wood is also completely unnecessary, because in the developed world we invariably have better and cleaner alternatives for heating our homes. If you are burning wood in the United States, Europe, Australia, or any other developed nation, you are most likely doing so recreationally—and the persistence of this habit is a major source of air pollution in cities throughout the world. In fact, wood smoke often contributes more harmful particulates to urban air than any other source."

Just something to consider Will when you get the urge to light another fire in your fireplace. I converted both my fireplaces to gas a couple years ago and have never regretted it. BTW - they're the only source of heat for my house so I actually would have been allowed to continue to burn wood, even on spare-the-air days. I just felt guilty when I went outside and realized how I was imposing on all my neighbors when I did so, not to mention that the smoke was irritating to me and my family after a while.
I know this means a little less romance in our lives but, like banning the burning of leaves in the fall, it really does make the world a better place.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm

@Will Light Up -
Thanks for your suggestion that I learn to use the internet better. After poking around, I did find a reference that does seem to refute your claim that cars are a greater source of pollution than fireplace smoke.
According to this link Web Link during winter months in the Bay Area, wood smoke produces more than twice the fine particulates as all on-road motor vehicles.
Specific measurements show the Winter Sources of Bay Area Fine Particulates to be:
Wood Smoke - 38%
Car Exhaust - 15%
Geological Dust - 12%
Stationary Sources - 11%
Other Mobile Sources - 9%
Industrial Sources - 7%
Commercial Cooking - 4%
Animal Waste - 2%
Wild Fires - 2%

Care to comment?

Posted by Fred, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 31, 2013 at 6:36 am

Taking stats above straight from BAAQMD's website isn't exactly independent science.
@ 100% bicyclist: Yes, no due process. As much as there may be good faith in the interpretation, there -again- is no due process since those issuing citations aren't sworn officers...and have no police authority. Similar to a meter maid--Just what homeowners need.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 31, 2013 at 8:40 am

Are you suggesting the BAAQMD is making these numbers up?! Any evidence to support your slur? I thought not.
This type of ad hominem argument is something I expect from a right-wing website: If you don't like the message, throw stones at the messenger. It's a cheap shot and a signt you're losing the argument and haven't got anything better to offer.
In fact BAAQMD air quality measurements are made automatically every 20 minutes at instruments scattered throughout the Bay Area and automatically displayed in a running animation that shows levels throughout the day. Pretty hard to cook those numbers don't you think?

Posted by Agree, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 31, 2013 at 10:18 am

This entire conversation is starting to make me laugh. I find it funny that people are arguing that burning wood in a residential fireplace is worse than the tens of thousands of cars burning fossil fuels, trucks smoking like a "chimney" on the roads, leaf blowers and all the other things generating pollutants. Maybe fires emit a "2.5" size particle, so what? What about the smaller and larger particles?

Someone jumped on my comment about having a spare the air if only one section of this entire area is slightly above the limit, they said the wind carries the smoke to that area, but then isn't the problem there is no wind (as pointed out by another person saying the smoke lingers.

People are pulling statistics from different sources that have a vested interest in keeping "Sparetheair" around. Yes, Statistics can be twisted anyway you want. They focus on this "2.5" number but they don't talk about the other pollutants.

As for "interpreting the law" you don't get to do that. The people who enforce it interpret it and if we are lucky the courts make the final interpretation and that usually goes against the individual and in favor of government. So if you think they have to verify that you have a fire and it is the only means of heat before they issue a citation, you would be wrong.

While you are all having this argument I am getting ready to have a nice fire in my fire place. It will keep me warn, cut down on my PG&E bill and I will enjoy it. Cheers

Posted by 100% bicycle commuter, a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I find this debate tremendously interesting. It happens every year. I am not personally invested in an outcome. I am very sympathetic to wood fire users. Wood fires are delightful to look at, listen to, smell, and feel the warmth from; and they set a wonderful ambiance. (Of course, many of these effects are possible with gas fires and artificial logs, so one needn't lose these by converting to gas.) And my health is not personally affected by them, as far as I can tell.

What I find interesting, really, is not this issue for its own sake but rather this issue as a model for what a community is able or unable to accomplish when data are available to inform a decision. Unlike issues such as traffic, for example, wood fire burning is not driven by necessity (for if it is, then it does not fall under the purview of Spare the Air Days).

Several of us have provided data and links to data from both local- and federal-government sources that support the assertion that residential wood fire burning is a substantial source of wintertime air pollution. The opponents in this debate have not provided data of any sort, much less data of the same quality as ours. Rather, they provide speculation about contributors or question in broad terms (e.g., "Statistics can be twisted anyway you want") the validity of the data and its interpretation.

The statement that "[s]tatistics can be twisted anyway you want" is not a complete argument. Suppose first that statistics are always twisted. If that is true, then nothing can be known quantitatively. (That is different than saying nothing can be known with certainty; indeed, very little can.) So, instead, suppose instead that statistics are only sometimes twisted. One purpose of education is to learn how to assess data and interpretations on one's own. Statistics summarizing data can be twisted, but one must argue on a case-by-case basis that in fact they have been. So to assert that they have been is only the opening statement of the argument; one must then carefully describe the errors that have been made.

@Fred: You wrote that "[t]aking stats above straight from BAAQMD's website isn't exactly independent science." I provided links to the EPA website (before you made that comment), so in fact you have access to an independent and very rich presentation of data.

@Agree: "I find it funny that people are arguing that burning wood in a residential fireplace is worse than the tens of thousands of cars burning fossil fuels ..." and @Fred: "More particulate matter is stirred up by leaf blowers ... than wood fires ... emit." What you write is broad speculation unsupported by data. In contrast, we are ordering source contributions based on data. These data show that wood fires emit more PM_{2.5} than these other sources. @Fred, your claim about dust may be correct for PM_{10}; but @Agree, your speculation about automobiles is false for both PM_{2.5} and PM_{10} according to the EPA data.

@Agree: "What about the smaller and larger particles?" What about them? PM_{10} data are available on the EPA website. Dust is indeed a much larger contributor to PM_{10} than wood fires and light-duty gasoline vehicles. But that does not invalidate that emission of PM_{2.5} is important to control.

It would be nice if wood fires were clean because I like them. But the data say otherwise, and I always try to live according to the best science available -- at least concerning those of my actions that affect others -- as a matter of principle. Someone convince me (by properly citing data) that I'm wrong. I'd be happy to be wrong about this and many other things. I have no problem admitting when I'm wrong about something.

Posted by Old MP, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 31, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Just convert your fireplace to gas logs or a direct vent system. Problem solved for everyone.

Posted by warm&cozy, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 1, 2014 at 8:09 am

This law is typical of todays world full of victims. Sorry aesmatics, grab your inhaler, because the fire was burning at my party last night. Hmmm, woke up this morning and the sun rose and the birds took doomsday after all. Bottom line, you think a fires smoke is harmful, dont build one. But dont try to stop me from my pursuit of happiness unless you want to knock on my door yourself and ask.

And that aint gonna happen is it?

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 1, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Warm&cozy, first I'd like to acknowledge that your comment succeeds in that it is an act of provocation that drew comment from me.

It's all about freedom for you, isn't it? Freedom is not only important, it's EVERYTHING. Stop signs, speed limits, the building code, income taxes, Obamacare, abominations all. The community and the interests of the community can go jump in a lake.

The word "commonwealth" is offensive to you, I'll bet. And the poor and working poor among us are poor and working poor because they lack the right stuff needed to achieve in a "meritorious" society. Connections have nothing to do with becoming wealthy; it's all due to merit.

You have intelligence and surely a conscience and a capacity for empathy, but you appear to choose not to use them to their fullest extent, particularly those last two. Such is the calling card of today's conservative.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 1, 2014 at 1:13 pm

A slight restatement: I did not mean to imply that Warm&cozy was seeking a comment from me (Joe) with the provocation, but from those of us who disagree with flouting the law on burning wood on spare-the-air days.

Posted by smoke in the air, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 1, 2014 at 2:07 pm

If I smell smoke in the air, but cannot identify which house is burning, should I call the police anyway? They can knock on doors to find the perps.

Posted by MOE, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 2, 2014 at 8:00 pm

I generally support the concept of keeping our air as unpolluted as possible and accept restrictions on wood burning because I suffered severe asthma attacks every fall during my childhood and teen years.
I nevertheless have to question the need to prevent burning on Christmas eve and new years eve, the two times when many families like to enjoy family gatherings by a cozy fire. Especially when the air quality rating was only moderate.

Posted by Agree, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 4, 2014 at 9:44 am

I found this article quite interesting. Of course I take a lot of things with a grain of salt but I did find it interesting that the closest ones to us are in a commercial area of redwood city near a restaurant and at the Palo Alto Airport, in fact they seem to like Airports with another one in San Carlos. I would think there would be a higher concentration of pollutants and dust and particulate matter at these kinds of sites.

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