To many Sonomans, nothing seems more natural than a warm fire crackling in the hearth on a cold winter night.
But on some of those cold nights – especially this year, due to the unusually dry winter we’ve been having – wood fires are verboten. Violators won’t get a knock on the door, but a ticket for $100 (or much more for repeat offenders) may arrive in the mail, courtesy of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
“Particulate matter impacts all of us,” said Tom Flannigan, spokesman for the district, which is tasked with monitoring air pollution levels and enforcing compliance on no-burn days. “And when we can smell it in the air, we’re all being affected by it.”
It’s neighbors who are going to smell that smoke and report it to the BAAQMD, resulting in a visit by one of the district’s 60 inspectors. They cover the district’s nine-county Bay Area region, which includes southern Sonoma County – encompassing Sonoma and all of Sonoma Valley up to Santa Rosa.
Flannigan explained that reporting one’s neighbor to the district does not trigger an automatic ticket. Rather, the district sends that person a “wood smoke awareness packet” by mail, and will probably send out an inspector at a later date. If, on that later date, a fire is detected on a Spare the Air day, a first-time fine of $100 is sent by mail. That jumps to $500 on a second violation, and can go up from there. (Homes where woodstoves or fireplaces are the only source of heat are exempt. Homes with an installed heat source are not exempt.)