Now that it’s November and cooler temperatures have (finally!) moved in, it’s very tempting for those of us with older homes to fire up the old fireplace for a cozy wood-burning fire. But before you do, please check with the Southern California Air Quality Management District to make sure the daily air quality can support such activity.
Between November 1 and the end of February, the SCAQMD asks residents to participate in its “Check Before You Burn” program by being aware of mandatory “no burn” days, and not burning wood in fireplaces when unhealthful air quality is forecast.
According to the SCAQMD, “No-burn alerts are issued for 24-hour periods for residential wood-burning fireplaces, backyard fire pits and wood stoves when emissions and stagnant weather conditions raise fine particulate pollution to unhealthy levels. Alerts are typically issued for the entire South Coast Air Basin, which encompasses all of Orange County and the non-desert portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.”
To find out whether any particular day is a “no burn” day or not, you can check the air quality map at https://www.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html (FYI: if you’re hoping to have a fire today, you’re in luck – they’re OK at the moment!)
So why all the caution? Again, according to the SCAQMD:
“Although some might consider wood smoke “natural,” smoke caused by burning wood in fireplaces can emit more than five tons of harmful PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) emissions per day in the South Coast Air Basin – more than three times the amount of PM2.5 emitted from all of the power plants in the Southland. Particulate matter in the air can cause throat and eye irritation, aggravate asthma and trigger other respiratory conditions. Breathing high levels of particulate matter over long periods of time can also cause more serious health problems.”
In addition to the air quality map mentioned above, there are two other ways to Check Before You Burn:
- Sign up at http://www.airalerts.org/ to receive Air Alerts on air quality and to be notified when a mandatory no-burn alert has been issued for your neighborhood.
- Or call (toll free) 866-966-3293 for daily Check Before You Burn information.
Finally, even though the daily air quality may not support a wood fire, you can still warm your hearth in other ways — gas fireplaces, which don’t emit the same kinds of particulate matter as wood-burning fireplaces, can still be used on “no burn” days. Also, you can also temporarily replace logs in your wood-burning fireplace with candles (see photo above). They don’t give off the same kind of heat, but they do create a pleasant visual warmth on cool days and nights.