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Burning questions in the Bay Area

On December 22, 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that San Francisco Bay Area’s air quality does not meet federal standards for particulate matter (fine flecks of soot, etc.) that can cause heart attacks and premature death. EPA gave the Bay Area three years to get its act together. Failure to comply will result in the loss of precious transportation funding.

The principal sources of particulate matter are exhaust from diesel engines and wood smoke from fireplaces. In the winter the largest single source of fine particulate matter in the air is wood burning.

“Wait a minute!” you say, “Isn’t the Bay Area a bastion (definition 3) of environmental consciousness?” :-)


For example, I know a scientific, otherwise well-educated person in my own neighborhood who bought three cords of firewood to burn this winter, because his wife would not let him buy EVEN MORE. The reason for burning wood is likely economic. Complicating the air pollution issue in the Bay Area is the alternating topography of mountains and valleys that can trap air and allow it to become stagnant, and the intermittent nature of precipitation here.

People in the Bay Area who bother to listen to, or watch, or read about, the news (an amazing number of people do not) may have noticed that “Winter Spare the Air” alerts have been issued this year for the first time. There is a first-time warning for violators, and repeat offenders can be fined THOUSANDS of dollars.

In July of 2008, the Air District passed Regulation 6, Rule 3: Wood-Burning Devices to reduce fine particulate matter air pollution from wood smoke.

Under this regulation, it is illegal to burn wood, firelogs, or pellets in your fireplace, woodstove, or outdoor firepit on days for which the Air District issues a Winter Spare the Air Alert.

The 2008-2009 Winter Spare the Air season runs from November 1 through February 28.

There are other details and ways to find out about the Winter Spare the Air Alert Status on this Web page.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

You can view higher-resolution photos (*generally* 7-30 megabytes, compressed) at the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Pro Gallery on Shutterfly™, where you can also order prints and gifts decorated with the photos of your choice from the gallery. Apparel and other gifts decorated with some of our most popular photos can be ordered from the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Store on CafePress®. Both Shutterfly™ and CafePress® ship to most international locations worldwide! If you don’t see what you want or would like to receive an email when new photos are up on the site, send us an email at

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