UPDATED: By now, Southern California residents may have become accustomed to bans against burning wood in their fireplaces. The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued several prohibitions over the last few weeks, and there's another ban scheduled Jan. 3-4.
But the agency has offered an explanation as to why there are so many bans this winter season, and it has to do with tighter restrictions.
"It was anticipated that lowering the threshold would trigger more no-burn days. Since November 1, we have issued four no-burn alerts this season," district spokeswoman Tina Cox said in an email Jan. 2.
The fourth no-burn was scheduled Jan. 3 and a fifth ban was issued for Jan. 4. Residents living in the Inland Empire, greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, and Orange County are not permitted to burn wood in their fireplaces tomorrow due to elevated fine particulate levels predicted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Residents in these areas are prohibited from burning wood or manufactured fire logs in their fireplaces during the two-day and two-night ban, although residents living in mountain communities are exempt from the ban, as are residents in the Coachella Valley and High Desert. Homes that rely on wood as a sole source of heat, low-income households and those without natural gas service also are exempt from the requirement, according to the SCAQMD.
But why the bans?
SCAQMD’s Check Before You Burn program, in effect each winter from Nov. 1 to the end of February, is designed to protect public health by minimizing harmful wood smoke from residential wood burning, according to the SCAQMD.
"No-burn alerts are called when air quality is forecast to be elevated due to fine particulate levels (PM2.5). Wood smoke contains hundreds of contaminants including PM2.5, a pollutant linked to increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations, as well as increased risk of heart attacks and early deaths," according to an SCAQMD statement.
The SCAQMD also adopted rule changes in May that tighten restrictions on wood burning. The changes lower the forecast threshold for a no-burn alert from 35 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 to 30 micrograms per cubic meter, averaged over a 24-hour period. In addition, depending on where unhealthy PM2.5 levels are forecast, a no-burn alert may be called for specific areas or for the entire South Coast Air Basin, according to the agency.
"Included in the amendments was the lowering of the threshold level that triggers a mandatory no-burn day," Cox added.
On a no-burn day, residents can enter their ZIP code at www.aqmd.gov to see if they live in an affected area. They can also sign up for daily reports on air quality and Check Before You Burn alerts at www.airalerts.org or call SCAQMD’s 24-hour Check Before You Burn toll-free line at (866) 966-3293.
For further information on Check Before You Burn and alternatives to wood burning, see www.healthyhearths.org. -- Toni McAllister and Guy McCarthy contributed to this story.