As temperatures drop, smoke will increase in many local communities as residents fire up wood-burning devices to heat their homes.
When smoke combines with diesel emissions and other tiny pollution particles, air quality can quickly degrade and sometimes cause bans on burning. Wood smoke is one of the most serious air pollution problems in Washington, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.
For those who live in an area where polluted air is common and they have another way to heat their home, state officials advise people to think twice before lighting a wood stove or other wood-burning device.
Many communities in Washington suffer poor air quality during the home heating season and can be at risk of failing to meet state and federal air quality standards to protect human health.
Burning wood can be a cheap way to heat a home if done correctly. However, if wood is wet, burning can be inefficient and thus more costly: it takes nearly twice as much green wood than dry wood to create the hot fire people want. This is especially true with older wood burning devices.
Burning wet wood – and burning more of it because it’s too wet or green – produces more smoke than burning dry wood..
How burn bans work
When fine particle pollution reaches unsafe levels, ecology officials and local clean air agencies can call burn bans in their jurisdictions to protect people’s health by limiting smoke in those areas.
The Department of Ecology and the clean air agencies use the media to get out information on burn bans. The information is also available online at waburnbans.net.
Burn bans are called in two stages:
Stage one burn bans are called based on expected weather conditions and rising pollution levels. No burning is allowed in wood-burning fireplaces, uncertified wood stoves or uncertified fireplace inserts, unless it is the only adequate heat source.
Stage two burn bans are called when fine particle pollution levels reach a “trigger value” set by state law, and are not expected to drop for at least a day. No burning is allowed in any wood-burning fireplace, wood stove or fireplace insert (even certified models), unless it is the only adequate source of heat.
During both stages of burn bans, all outdoor burning is prohibited. The bans include agricultural and forest burning.
Violating a burn ban could lead to penalties, including fines. More information is available online at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/air/airhome.html.