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 www.sparetheair.org 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.