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The Beehive Asks: What will it take for people to stop using their fireplaces?

UPDATE 1/10: From today’s Bee: Stronger Valley air pollution alerts to be issued.

ORIGINAL ENTRY 1/9: I was walking along Huntington Boulevard at about 4:30 p.m. yesterday, enjoying a nice late-Sunday stroll on a lazy afternoon, when I noticed a house on the south side of the street — very cute, very rustic, with a charming depiction of an owl hanging from the roof — with smoke wafting out the chimney. A big pile of firewood was stacked on the front porch. It was nearly 60 degrees.

Really? On a no-burn day, in a week in which the stuff we breathe is choked with particulate matter? Are people really that clueless about how bad our air is this winter? On Dec. 29, Bee environment writer Mark Grossi wrote:

The Valley’s haze has become a nasty brew of soot and debris twice the federal health standard. And it’s getting worse. Nature and the economy have created a perfect storm of dirty air — the worst December bout for the Fresno-Clovis area in more than a decade.

Some people say they have to use their fireplaces for economic reasons. If they don’t burn, they can’t stay warm, and that’s a health issue, they say.

Not when it’s warm to walk down the street in your shirt sleeves.

As seems to be depressingly the case in our hyper-polarized society, wood burning becomes a political act as well. As one fresnobee.com commenter declared:

I believe I have a right to burn a fire in my fireplace without an unreasonable search of my chimney. Just seems like government has grown too big.

What I want to know is this: How bad does our air have to get for clueless people to stop the burning? Right now, the fine for lighting wood fires is $50, waived on the first offense. Maybe it should be $5,000.

Responses to "The Beehive Asks: What will it take for people to stop using their fireplaces?"

S. Ryan says:

Using a fireplace when it is 60F out seems absurd, at best. Come on..

JJJJ says:

Did you call whoever it is that issues tickets?

Donald Munro says:

No, I didn’t. It didn’t occur to me until I started writing my post. But I will next time.

Gil Vasquez says:

Not to stereotype but I believe that most of the the wood burning culprits, are older (60+ yrs old) that burning a fire is like serving dinner in the late fall/winter time. I remember working with a guy in the 90′s (he’s 60+ yrs old) that his wife wanted him to make a fire every night when he got home from work. They don’t understand air quality problems. And, even though this is another subject, I notice most 60+ year olds don’t put out the recyclable trash cans. Trash is trash to most of them (my experience) and don’t understand that concept either. You mentioned Huntington Blvd which if I remember has an older age demographics for the most part. IDK, just my 2 cents….

Christy says:

As an environmental activisit, I couldn’t agree with you more Donald.

We need more tickets says:

Burning wood is your own business… EXCEPT THAT EVERYONE HAS TO BREATHE YOUR SMOKE!

It’s ALL OUR AIR. People need to start acting with a little more courtesy. Biggest problem in America: that no one gives a crap about anyone else.

Josh says:

While i agree that it’s ridiculous that someone is burning on a 60 degree, no-burn day, with air quality being as terrible as it has been the last few weeks, i understand where the fresno bee commenter is coming from. I believe that what someone does in their own home is their own business, as long as they are causing no harm to others. However, this person does not understand that he is contributing negatively to the health of others, just not as directly.

I do not think that introducing more laws, or increasing the fines of existing laws will change the mentality of this individual since he realizes that he most likely won’t get caught. Do we really want our authorities spending their time patrolling neighborhoods looking for those who are violating no-burn day policy?

The best answer is information. Someone close to him needs to ask him if burning is really necessary and tell him how bad our air quality is right now. Maybe a stronger community, who lets each other know when it’s ok to burn.

Dribble says:

What causes more pollution in our air.. people’s fireplaces or big rigs doing 70 mph on 99?

Esmeralda says:

I know that not everyone is burning just to be a rebel. I know from experience, that there are plenty of houses in the Huntington Blvd Area (i assume near Roosevelt HS) that were built in 1910-40 that haven’t been renovated. One needs to take in count that alot of things when it comes to wood burning in old neighborhoods. One an old house are freezing cold in the winter and baking hot in the summer because of the building materials used in that era, so even if its “warm” outside it might actually be colder inside. Also alot of those homes are owned by older people and they tend to have less tolerance to the cold. Plus some homes don’t have central heat/air, the no burning restriction is waived for them because burning is their only source of heat. So i wouldn’t be so quick to judge on simply the smoke coming out of the chimney, and/or a relatively up kept home.

Donald Munro says:

So how bad does our air have to get, Esmeralda, before you start getting concerned about smoke coming out of chimneys on no-burn days? When the asthma rate skyrockets to 75% of the population, or when people are keeling over at the grocery store? I realize we have to balance economic and health concerns, but if our air keeps getting worse, we might not continue to have that luxury. (Plus, there are ways to ensure that low-income individuals don’t get too cold in the winter, including tax policy and utility-bill assistance.) We as a society set minimum standards for living in a community in the interest of public health. For example, within city limits we don’t tolerate homes without indoor plumbing or that dump raw sewage into the streets. I think the time will come in the Valley that we realize that fireplaces are an archaic custom whose time is past.

JJJJ says:

Of course the question is, who do you call? I take it 911 wont be happy to hear you call in a fire…and clarify you mean a firepalce fire.