Thursday, December 6, 2012

Understanding wood fires, burn bans and other smoky topics

by Sean Hopkins, air quality smoke management team lead, Central Regional Office

It's that time of year again when air quality deteriorates quickly, and outdoor, woodstove and fireplace burning can be restricted. Please remember to stay updated on burn bans in the counties where you plan to burn either at home or while on vacation.

When it is OK to burn, remember to burn small, hot fires using clean, dry wood: only clear vapor should be seen from your stack. No garbage, plastic or wet wood please!

How burn bans work

When fine particle pollution found in smoke reaches unsafe levels, Ecology and local clean air agencies can call county-wide burn bans in their jurisdictions. These bans protect people's health by limiting wood burning in those areas. Ecology and the clean air agencies use news media and social media to get out information on burn bans. The information also is available online at Ecology post notices about its burn bans on the agency's website at

Last winter, Ecology issued burn bans in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Kittitas, Okanogan, Stevens, and Walla Walla counties. Local jurisdictions in Western Washington, Spokane, Yakima and Benton counties also put out no-burning notices.
Burn bans are called in stages:
  • Stage 1 burn bans are called based on weather conditions and rising pollution levels. No burning is allowed in wood-burning fireplaces, uncertified wood stoves or uncertified fireplace inserts, unless it is your only source of heat.
  • Stage 2 burn bans are called when fine particle pollution levels reach a “trigger value” set by state law. No burning is allowed in any wood-burning fireplace, wood stove or fireplace insert (even certified models), unless it is your only source of heat.
Violating a burn ban could lead to penalties, including fines.
All outdoor burning is banned during either Stage 1 or Stage 2 burn bans, even in areas where outdoor burning isn't permanently prohibited. The bans include agricultural and forest burning.

You can also sign up to receive email notifications about burn bans from Ecology's website here:

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