Do Scofflaws Ever Get Cited on Spare the Air Days?

Air quality officials say they receive an average of 100 to 200 citations on every day there is an alert.

Having a fire on a Spare the Air alert day can result in a citation. Photo credit: blondieb38, Morguefile.com
Having a fire on a Spare the Air alert day can result in a citation. Photo credit: blondieb38, Morguefile.com
By David Mills

Think you won't get caught if you light up your fireplace on a Spare the Air day?

Air quality officials say ... think again.

Tom Flannigan, a public information officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said the agency receives 100 to 200 complaints on every day there is an alert issued.

Less than 20 percent of complaints eventually result in citations.

Last season, there were 10 Winter Spare the Air Day alerts. On those days, 2,316 complaints were received and 178 citations were issued.

In 2011-2012, there were 15 Spare the Air days.  There were 3,777 complaints were received and 359 citations were issued.

So far this winter, there have been 22 of the wood burning prohibitions ordered. That includes the alert in place for Sunday.

Flannigan said there is no reason to suspect the average number of complaints is any lower.

"Yes, you can get caught," said Flannigan.

Flannigan said the number one way by far the agency catches violators is from complaints filed by nearby residents.

Each of those homes that received a complaint is mailed an information packet on air pollution and Spare the Air days.

The air quality district has 60 inspectors who follow up on the complaints.

On each Spare the Air Day, they take the addresses of the complaints from the previous alert day and drive by those homes.

If smoke from a chimney, barbecue, fire pit or other area is seen, the homeowner is mailed a citation.

If an inspector happens to see another house violating the wood burning ban along their route, that residence will also get a citation in the mail.

First-time violators are given the option of taking a wood smoke awareness class or paying a $100 fine. Second violations result in a $500 fine and the penalties rise with each violation after that.

The Spare the Air program began in 2008. Flannigan said the agency receives more complaints every year because more people are obeying the wood burning prohibition and don't like it when a neighbor doesn't.

"The people who are violating tend to stand a little more now," he said.

Flannigan said the Bay Area's unusual weather in December has caused the district to issue a large number of Spare the Air alerts.

He said there is usually rain or wind on most December days. There is neither right now.

"These are unique circumstances," he said.
Stewart Gooderman December 29, 2013 at 03:12 PM
The author should have included the following information: call 1-877-4NO-BURN (1-877-466-2876). To bypass the introductory phone message and go directly to complaint reporting, press 1 and then 1 and to fill out an online form: https://wscomplaint.baaqmd.gov/public/complaint_form.asp


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