This is what it means for Southern California fireplaces – San Bernardino Sun

Lighting a log in the fireplace can warm up a chilly winter night, but Southern California residents are supposed to first ensure wood-burning is even allowed that day.

Each November to the end of February, the South Coast Air Quality Management District asks those in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties to check before burning wood in an effort to limit airborne pollution on days when conditions are not good.

.“We call no-burn days so we can reduce the amount of smoke in the air and (fine particulate matter), that’s in a nutshell why we have this program in place,” said Sarah Rees, an AQMD deputy executive officer.

Higher levels of fine particulate matter can prompt respiratory disease, asthma attacks and premature death, she said. Lighting wood in a fireplace, a bonfire pit or a wood-burning stove are not allowed during the no-burn days.

“(The alerts) are really telling the average person what they can do on an individual level to make a difference,” said Rex Richardson, an AQMD board member and Long Beach councilman. “Sometimes it’s just as simple as not burning in your fireplace, not using your fire pits, wood-burning stoves – all of those things that can make a difference if everyone just follows the guidance.”

Two years ago, the threshold for when a no-burn day is declared got more restrictive, to better protect the environment and public health.

So far this season, there have been 34 no-burn days, the most recent on Jan. 30. That number is higher than in recent years, Rees said, in part because of weather conditions.

Since the no-burn program began in 2012, the smallest number of such days in a season was five, in the first season. The previous high was 33, four years ago.

To figure out if it is a no-burn day, said Nahal Mogharabi, AQMD’s director of communications, residents can get on an email distribution list or check social media. Some media outlets alert the public, and  AQMD works with agencies such as school districts to help spread the word.

The public can also go to, or call 866-966-3293 for a daily update.

Offenders can get cited but rarely do.

So far this season, there have been more than 180 complaints, compared to 172 last season, but not all of those result in citations. Most come in through the public, via 800-CUT-SMOG or the website, said Terrance Mann, AQMD’s deputy executive officer for compliance and enforcement.

Inspectors then drive out to the reported locations.

“If we actually put eyes on it, follow the smell to a place and identify smoke from a fireplace, we will send them a violation notice,” Mann said. “If we receive a complaint but don’t actually see it ourselves, we’ll send an information letter or a warning.”

Rarely, Mann said, do offenders repeat the violation.

A first violation fine costs $50, but can be waived by taking a smoke-awareness course. Second-time offenders face a $150 fine, which could also be waived, with proof of a gas fireplace.

There has never been a third-time violator — that’s a $500 fine.

Also, on no-burn days, inspectors roll out on patrols, with at least one inspector per county.

“We will work together usually with local government officials, so we might work with a local city or town, or their code enforcement,” Mann said.

Dolly Rhamy, a Torrance resident, wasn’t aware that no-burn days even existed.

“I wish they would put more information out there on how to get people to follow up,” said Rhamy, 58. “And check on people all the time.”

Ellen Goldenberg, 65, of Seal Beach said she’s been aware of no-burn days for several years. She reads about the alerts in a newspaper. Otherwise, Goldenberg said, she likely wouldn’t know about them.

“If they feel it’s helpful, I’m willing to abide by them,” she said.

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