Burn, Baby, Burn: Backyard Fire Permits Launch this Winter
November 23, 2012
On a clear day in the winter from the Salinas Valley, you might see several tufts of smoke curling upward from backyard burns in the surrounding hills, where landowners have taken a match to some mix of grass and tree clippings.
For the first time, when burn season begins on Dec. 1, the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District will grant permits for those burns, instead of the free-for-all it's been in the past.
"We know we have a smoke problem because we get calls from neighbors," Air Pollution Control Officer Richard Stedman says, "but we just don’t have a handle on how many backyard burns there are."
The new permitting system won't limit the number of burns, but will give the Air District a way to count how many backyard fires there are. And Stedman expects some of the new rules will help improve air quality.
Leaves, grass and pine needles are no longer allowed in fires, because they don't burn as hot as wood, therefore making smokier fires.
That's not always in the best interest of fire department officials, who Stedman says advocate for more localized burning of what could easily become wildfire fuel.
And from an air quality perspective, hot summers are the preferred time for burning, even though fire danger is greater. That's because there's better uplift, helping the smoke move out of smoke-sensitive areas like Carmel Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley in Santa Cruz County.
"This is the irony here," Stedman says. "We love people to burn during the summer months, but in winter, fire danger is minimal. We have this tension between fire safety and air quality management."
Stedman would like to see the burn season, Dec. 1-April 30, extended slightly longer into the spring.
For fire safety, burn permit holders will also have to call the morning of their planned burns, and depending on conditions—like high winds or wildfires nearby—the Air District can tell them to hold off.
Photo courtesy Public Domain Photos via Flickr.