Christmas and the new year holiday are among the precious few times when the whole family is together and it’s cold enough in the Valley to gather around a crackling fire.
But those holidays are often when air pollution is at its worst – and no-burn restrictions go into place for fireplaces and open fire pits.
Air quality officials are asking fireplace owners to check for no-burn advisories because they’ve been frequently issued often for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, said Lucette Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Air Quality Department.
“It tends to happen at that time, but it’s not something that’s already set,” Gonzales said.
She admits it’s tough to ask fireplace owners to hold back, and that many people ignore the no-burn days. But she said the pollution caused by fireplaces makes it harder for everybody to breathe – and causes a spike in asthmatics being hospitalized.
“We don’t mean to be the Grinch,” Gonzalez said. “What we’re trying to do is promote health. We need to make sure that we’re saving our own air.”
The prohibitions are typically issued two or three days before a no-burn day is in place. They can come out the day before, as well, based on changing forecasts. No-burn days typically start at midnight and last 24 hours.
During no-burn periods, homeowners can use grills and gas fireplaces.
Fireplace owners can find out when no-burn days are in effect by calling (602) 506-6400 or visiting www.cleanairmakemore.com. You can sign up for alerts via email, Twitter and Facebook.
In the past few years, the number of no-burn days has ranged from 17 in 2010 to 49 in 2008.
Violators can be warned for the first offense and face escalating fines that begin at $50.
But citations are rare. Of 537 complaints made last year, six people got warnings and six were fined.
The county has 37 inspectors who investigate complaints and have the authority to issue warnings and citations. She acknowledges inspectors have trouble finding the source of smoke and adds they’d rather not be out issuing citations.
“It is difficult for them,” Gonzales said. “More than anything, they would want to be with their families.”
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