More than 50 times last winter, Napa County residents blew the whistle on their neighbors for burning solid fuel on Spare the Air days, when burning is banned.
But their 51 complaints resulted in just one ticket being issued to a violator, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which issues Spare the Air alerts and enforces the burn bans.
Last winter, the district received 3,777 citizen complaints about residential wood burning during the season’s 15 Spare the Air days. Those complaints resulted in a total of 346 warnings to wood burners in nine counties and 13 tickets carrying a $400 fine (See table below).
Aaron Richardson, a spokesman for the BAAQMD, said by email that the agency has only collected $800 in fines from the previous two winters, but that the chief point of banning wood fires on certain winter days is about improving air quality, not raising revenue. He added that early studies suggest that wood burning may be down by 15 percent from five years ago.
Here’s Richardson on how the BAAQMD enforces wood burning bans:
Warnings and Tickets Issued for Wood Burning on Winter Spare the Air Days Winter 2010-2011 (4 days of ban) Winter 2011-2012 (15 days of ban) County Warnings Tickets Warnings Tickets Alameda 5 0 10 0 Contra Costa 5 1 57 4 Marin 5 0 48 3 Napa 0 0 51 1 San Francisco 0 0 1 0 Santa Clara 13 1 32 2 San Mateo 2 0 31 1 Solano 0 0 8 0 Sonoma 29 0 108 2 Total 59 2 346 13
“We have about 70 inspectors on staff, and though not all of them are dispatched at any one time for wood burning duty, we send out patrols of various sizes on Winter Spare the Air days, depending on the day and availability.
“Inspectors must witness and document a violation to issue a citation. We track all complaints received and use those to help plan neighborhoods to patrol.
“They look for smoke, and are trained in smoke plume recognition and opacity, and they must go to the physical location of the fire to determine and document the source before writing a citation.”
This season, first-time offenders, who would have previously received a warning letter, will now be obliged to take an online class on the public health impacts of wood smoke.
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