Air District eyeing air quality during cold season


When the temperature drops, the firewood burns. That is the plan for the Wiggs family over the Thanksgiving weekend. With a bunch of out-of-town relatives visiting San Rafael, the holiday would not be the same without a crackling fire.

"We sit here every night and have a fire and have some wine and have a very cozy, comfortable visit. It's just wonderful. It makes a huge difference," says Cathie Wiggs of San Rafael resident.

But, it can also make a huge difference to air quality in the Bay Area. While this was all perfectly legal and it was OK to burn a fire Friday, authorities were asking people to hold off at least until the expected rain moves in Saturday.

"The rain and windy weather we had this past weekend really helped move the pollution out, but starting Tuesday, we had the cold, cold still weather and the pollution is building to unhealthy levels, and we're seeing it right now," says Kristine Roselius with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District says.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District sees that pollution with the help of 30 air monitoring stations all over the region, including one on top of a building in downtown San Rafael. When the air is dry and stagnant and tiny soot particles build up, the district will ban all wood fires including those using pellets and synthetic logs. That has not happened yet this season thanks to a wet fall. It was different last year when a burn ban went into effect on Thanksgiving Day.

"Well, you know I'd like to have a fire as much as possible, but I have to consider what the rules are," Wiggs says.

When the burn ban goes into effect, repeat violators can be fined $400 after getting a warning letter. With more than 1 million fireplaces and woodstoves in the Bay Area, last year, only eight homeowners had to pay that fine.

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