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Spare The Air Alerts: Do People Really Get Caught?

Air quality officials say they receive an average of 100 to 200 complaints on every day there is an alert

Wood cannot be burned in fireplaces on Spare the Air days
Wood cannot be burned in fireplaces on Spare the Air days
Think you won't get caught if you light up your fireplace on a Spare the Air day?

Air quality officials say... think again.

Tom Flannigan, a public information officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said the agency receives 100 to 200 complaints on every day there is an alert issued.

Less than 20 percent of complaints eventually result in citations.

Last season, there were 10 Winter Spare the Air Day alerts. On those days, 2,316 complaints were received and 178 citations were issued.

In 2011-2012, there were 15 Spare the Air days.  There were 3,777 complaints were received and 359 citations were issued.

So far this winter, there have been 22 of the wood burning prohibitions ordered. That includes the alert in place for Sunday.

Flannigan said there is no reason to suspect the average number of complaints is any lower.

"Yes, you can get caught," said Flannigan.

Flannigan said the number one way by far the agency catches violators is from complaints filed by nearby residents.

Each of those homes that received a complaint is mailed an information packet on air pollution and Spare the Air days.

The air quality district has 60 inspectors who follow up on the complaints.

On each Spare the Air Day, they take the addresses of the complaints from the previous alert day and drive by those homes.

If smoke from a chimney, barbecue, fire pit or other area is seen, the homeowner is mailed a citation.

If an inspector happens to see another house violating the wood burning ban along their route, that residence will also get a citation in the mail.

First-time violators are given the option of taking a wood smoke awareness class or paying a $100 fine. Second violations result in a $500 fine and the penalties rise with each violation after that.

The Spare the Air program began in 2008. Flannigan said the agency receives more complaints every year because more people are obeying the wood burning prohibition and don't like it when a neighbor doesn't.

"The people who are violating tend to stand a little more now," he said.

Flannigan said the Bay Area's unusual weather in December has caused the district to issue a large number of Spare the Air alerts.

He said there is usually rain or wind on most December days. There is neither right now.

"These are unique circumstances," he said.

Jojo Potato December 28, 2013 at 10:46 PM
These figures are completely bogus. A local citizen filed a FOI request recently and received detailed figures from 11/1 - 12/15. (9 spare the air days in that period). According to those figures 87 citations were issued or about 9.6 per spare the air day. That's a lot less than the 200 figure than Mr. Flannigan had provided. See details here: http://claycord.com/2013/12/19/citation-results-by-city-other-information-regarding-spare-the-air-alerts/
RBCruz December 29, 2013 at 11:32 AM
Why doesn't the (lame) media ask: Why do all Bay Areas have to do the same thing...a reading in Napa is the same as Walnut Creek? What is the effect of increased gas furnace emissions when we can't burn wood? Why can't there be specific times of day allowed for burning ?
JKI December 29, 2013 at 01:38 PM
When they issue you a citation for smoke from a BBQ or fire pit, how do they know that it is not from a cooking fire, which is not prohibited?
mlm2013 December 29, 2013 at 02:29 PM
I just looked it up - BBQ's are exempt - you can BBQ all you want on a Spare the Air day - and did you know that restaurants with wood burning ovens are EXEMPT from this regulation - after all - they have a business to run GDI!!!!!
JKI December 29, 2013 at 03:05 PM
Yes. The BAAQMD inspectors do not ring the doorbell & inquire. Supposedly, they mail you a citation based on visual smoke, and really have no way of knowing whether you are smoking salmon or having a backyard fire. I'm curious how this actually works. I think they would have a hard time with enforcement.
David Mills (Editor) December 30, 2013 at 02:02 PM
Hey, Jojo: You are correct... there was apparently a misunderstanding on the figures provided to us by BAAQMD... the 200 number is how many complaints they receive. Not all result in citations.
Jojo Potato December 30, 2013 at 10:26 PM
The article has been changed, but now has rolled off the rotation so my corrections are lost. The BAAQMD achieved their goal of using misleading figures (i.e. lies) to scare the citizenry into obeying their very questionable rules. Also, I see the article on Concord patch has not been changed so the lies continue to expand like ripples in a pond. I feel like it's the real 1984 now. Government agencies build power and protect themselves by feeding the willing media with their messages which are distributed to an accepting public. Very discouraging indeed.

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