When fireplaces are outlawed only outlaws will have fireplaces.

Published: November 19, 2010

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has recently launched the latest salvo aimed at curbing individual freedoms and property right. This initiative, dubbed ‘Check Before You Burn’, is geared toward forcing people to refrain from using their wood burning fireplaces or other wood burning heaters in an effort to ‘improve wintertime air quality’.

Under this new program, the AQMD will issue no-burn advisories through the end of February for specific areas where ‘fine particulates are forecast to reach unhealthy levels’. For 2011 the no-burn prohibition is voluntary but starting in 2012 there will be a series of escalating fines from $50 to $500 or more if you light up during one of their advisory periods. They expect to see about 15 of these periods from November through February.

The AQMD claims that Southern California is home to about 1.4 million fireplaces or wood burning stoves. They claim that these spew 6 tons of soot into the air every day – 4 times the amount emitted by all the power plants in the southland. Really? But their spokes hole says people can avoid the problem just by switching to natural gas fireplaces.

But how about if you live in an area not served by natural gas? Say you live in the Temecula Valley Wine Country or up in the De Luz avocado groves, or the Meadowview area of Temecula? These areas are not all served by natural gas. Many rely on wood burning appliances to not just take the edge off a nippy winter eve, but to stay warm affordably. Electric heat isn’t cheap and many older residents or those on a fixed income will have to make tough choices.

Some of these homes have installed propane (bottled) gas to power certain appliances. But according to one resident I spoke to, their heating bill if they rely on propane alone can run to over $500/month during the winter. Simply burning a half cord of wood for $225 during the winter keeps the chill away and keeps their propane bill to under $200/month.

The AQMD knows this is a problem and have issued exemptions for areas over 3,000 feet elevation because they ‘recognize some mountain residents heat their homes that way’. How about recognizing that some residents below 3,000 do the same?

Is this a life changing event? Not for me. I’ve got four fireplaces in my house and they all burn gas. Goody goody for me. Will it severely impact a lot of people throughout our rural areas that can ill afford it? Probably not significantly if the no-burn events are held to no more than 15 random nights during the 4 month period. Maybe cost folks a few hundred extra bucks for heat, or a few hundred more for fines. Too bad for them.

But here’s my forecast – and I’ve been through this before so I’m not just whistling Dixie out my kazoo. Within 5 years, all wood burning devices will be banned. (When fireplaces are outlawed, only outlaws will have fireplaces).

Year one (2011) will be voluntary compliance with the no-burn. Year two (2012) the ban is no longer voluntary.

Year 3 (2013) will be more of the same – probably with a few more no-burn advisory days thrown in for good measure, or the particulate standards will be reduced to comply with some arbitrary ruling by the geniuses at the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

By year 4 (2014), based on the same specious studies that give us 6 tons of soot a day from fireplaces (did I mention that’s 4 times more than ALL the power plants in Southern California?), they will declare the project a resounding success but predicated on Californians need to be the leader in greenwashing reality, they will see the need to implement an outright ban on all woodburning devices. This will be voluntary in 2014 and there will be a call for increased state spending both to appoint a ‘smoke czar patrol’ to monitor the the state’s chimneys as well as to pay for people to switch to some alternate form of heat technology. By 2015 you’ll be subject to criminal prosecution if your chimney so much as farts during the winter.

Don’t believe me? I could direct you to several cities around the state and the country where that exact scenario has come to pass already. Meanwhile China continues to open a new coal-fired power plant every day. Arizona coal-fired plants will continue to provide electricity to Southern California. Our air will not be appreciably cleaner. But another of your simple pleasures, what you used to consider a right, will have been erased.

Aw, who cares? I’m heading for my little cabin in the woods. There’s plenty of down timber to cut up and not a neighbor around for miles to tattle if I stoke my fireplace. You can come drive by sometime if you get nostalgic for a whiff of pine smoke on a crisp winter morning.

Meanwhile if you want to learn if there’s a ‘no-burn’ advisory out tonight, here’s all you have to do:

• Check AQMD’s Check Before You Burn map at www.aqmd.gov to see if a voluntary no-burn advisory has been issued for their area. Residents may also zoom into a particular neighborhood on the map by entering an address or zip code;
• Sign up to receive electronic e-mail notices when a no-burn advisory is issued for their area. Visit www.airalerts.org to sign up; or
• Call AQMD’s 24-hour Check Before You Burn toll-free information line at (866) 966-3293.

Last modified: November 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Originally published: November 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm
Printed: September 24, 2020