Today marks the beginning of no-burn season.
Every year between Nov. 1 and March 1, officials from the Utah Division of Air Quality have legislative authority to issue voluntary and mandatory no-burn actions on days with bad air quality, said Donna Spangler, DAQ communications director.
“When things start getting cold and people are tempted to light their fireplaces, we just say, ‘Be mindful there are days when you can’t burn,’” she said. “Those are days when the air pollution is pretty bad.”
State regulations forbid residents from using their wood fireplaces and stoves, pellet stoves, outdoor fireplaces or fire pits, charcoal grills, smokers and coal-burning stoves on no-burn days. Enforcement officers can fine households up to $299 if they’re caught disobeying the ban, according to the DAQ website.
Mandatory no-burn days help officials maintain good air quality in Utah, Spangler said.
“It’s important because studies do show that particulate pollution, although a lot of it comes from automobile emissions, there’s still the impact of wood smoke on poor air quality,” she said. “It’s just another factor we want to try and control so we can make sure our air quality is good.”
The DAQ declares action days based on scientific models that forecast inversions and the buildup of particulate pollution in the atmosphere. On voluntary action days, residents are asked to voluntarily refrain from burning wood or coal and limit their driving time. On mandatory action days, the burn ban is in effect.
However, residents whose only source of heat is from burning a solid fuel and who are registered on the state’s sole-source registry are excluded from no-burn days. They are allowed to continue burning to heat their homes even during days of poor air quality without receiving citations from the state, according to state code.
“When particulate pollution rises, we like to be proactive by calling voluntary action days,” Spangler said. “On days we know when we’re heading into an inversion, … we can actually call a mandatory no-burn.”
Inversion is a meteorological event when the air close to the ground is colder than the air above it. The warm air acts as a lid, trapping pollution from wood fires, vehicles and industry close to the surface. The strength and duration of inversions can be increased in valleys surrounded by mountains.
State officials report action levels daily to local newspapers, TV and radio stations. It also updates its website, air.utah.gov, and its phone app, UtahAir.
The DAQ developed the UtahAir app a few years ago with input from students at Weber State University. It is free to download and is available for iPhone and Android devices, Spangler said.
Residents can also subscribe to receive email alerts at deq.utah.gov/ListServ or call 801-536-0072 for information on current air quality conditions.