Thursday, Feb. 28 marked the end of the San Joaquin Valley’s 16th residential wood burning season. The Check Before You Burn Program through the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District takes place each winter from November through February and is designed to minimize the build-up of harmful fine particle pollution. Despite record-breaking wildfires at the beginning of the season, the remainder of the season was among the cleanest in recorded history.
Regional high pressure systems often cause pollutants to become trapped in the bowl-shaped San Joaquin Valley, creating high concentrations of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter pollution) that build up very quickly at ground level, resulting in poor air quality. PM2.5 can have adverse effects on public health, aggravating heart and lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. During a period of particularly poor dispersion, November’s Camp Fire generated some of the most significant smoke impacts ever experienced in the Valley. However, frequent winter storms immediately following the Camp Fire, combined with favorable weather patterns, a high level of cooperation by Valley residents and the use of much cleaner wood, pellet and natural gas devices, made possible by the District’s Burn Cleaner Program, all played pivotal roles in the vast improvement to wintertime air quality this season.
“District incentives have helped hundreds of our residents invest in cleaner devices,” said Samir Sheikh, the District’s executive director and air pollution control officer. “Such investments by the public along with those by Valley stakeholders, and a variety of other emission-reduction strategies, have resulted in cleaner air for every San Joaquin Valley resident.”
The District issues a daily wood-burning declaration, based on the air quality forecast for each county with one of three specific designations: “No Burning For All,” “No Burning Unless Registered,” or “No Restrictions, Burning Discouraged.” While no formal burning restrictions will be in place from now until Nov. 1, 2019, the District discourages all residential wood burning.
San Joaquin County saw 39 No Burning Unless Registered days for the 2018-19 season, compared to 45 the previous year. No Burning For All was issued 10 times; there were no issuances in that category in 2017-18. Notices of Violation numbered 109 this year, up from79 last year.
In Stanislaus County, there were 37 No Burning Unless Registered days this year, down from 49 last year; 10 No Burning For All designations, up from two and 100 Notices of Violation, up from 73 in 2017-18.
Residents interested in upgrading from an open-hearth fireplace or older wood stove, to a cleaner device, are encouraged to take advantage of the District’s Burn Cleaner incentive program, which provides $1,000 for certified wood/pellet inserts, freestanding stoves or natural gas inserts. Low income residents are eligible for $2,500 to purchase such devices. An additional $500 is also available toward installation costs when choosing a natural gas device over wood or pellet. Visit www.valleyair.org/burncleaner for program guidelines.
Additionally, March through October is a great time to get clean burning devices registered ahead of next year’s wood burning season. Visit www.valleyair.org/CBYBregistration for details.
For more information, visit the Valley Air District’s website at www.valleyair.org, or call the District office in Modesto at 209-557-6400.