Puget Sound Clean Air Agency
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Frequently Asked Questions about
Air Quality Burn Bans

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I texted PIERCEBURN to 313131 to sign up for burn ban text alerts in Pierce County, but it's not working, I'm not getting texts, why?

We've heard from some subscribers to our Pierce County Burn Ban text alert service they aren't receiving our text messages. We talked to the company that provides our texting service and the cell phone companies. They say you need to contact your cellphone company and ask them to set your cellular account to "allow short codes". If this doesn't work, please contact us.

What is a burn ban?

An air quality burn ban is a mandatory, yet temporary, order that restricts the use of wood stoves and fireplaces, as well as outdoor burning, when air quality is degraded and human health may be adversely impacted. For more information, visit: www.pscleanair.org/burnban.

Air quality burn bans typically occur during fall and winter months and may last for up to a week or more. For more information on the history of burns bans, visit www.pscleanair.org/airq/burnban/historicalrecord.aspx .


Who can issue a burn ban?

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has regulatory authority to issue burn bans in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties, in accordance with RCW 70.94.473.


Why do you call burn bans?

The smoke from burning wood and wood-based products contains fine particles (soot) and a toxic mix of other carcinogens. This pollution is harmful to your health, particularly for young children, older adults and people with respiratory and heart disease. During stagnant weather conditions, concentrations of wood smoke can reach harmful levels, so we restrict wood smoke emissions to protect air quality in our neighborhoods and the health of those living there.


Where do you call burn bans?

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency calls air quality burn bans for King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Burn bans are called on a countywide basis. Air quality burn bans for areas outside Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s jurisdiction are issued by other local air agencies, the Washington Department of Ecology or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To find the agency that serves your area, visit www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/air/PDFS/Control_Officers.pdf (PDF 0.1MB).


How are burn ban conditions determined?

We follow state burn ban requirements:

  • We issue Stage 1 burn bans on the basis of weather conditions and rising pollution levels – when we predict we may violate air quality standards.
  • We issue Stage 2 burn bans when fine particle pollution levels reach a trigger value set by state law.

We issue these bans based on the air quality conditions in the individual counties within our jurisdiction. As a result, one or more counties may have a Stage 1 burn ban in place while another county has advanced to a Stage 2 burn ban. Or one county may have a burn ban in effect while others have no restrictions in place.  For more information: www.pscleanair.org/airq/burnban/background.aspx .


How can I find out when a burn ban has been issued or cancelled?

We offer many ways to learn about burn bans:

What’s the difference between a Stage 1 and Stage 2 burn ban?

During a Stage 1 burn ban:

  • No burning is allowed in wood-burning fireplaces, uncertified wood stoves or uncertified fireplace inserts unless this is your only adequate source of heat.
  • Even those using a certified device or those for whom this is their only adequate source of heat cannot generate visible smoke.
  • All outdoor burning is prohibited, even in areas where outdoor burning is not permanently banned. This includes wood- and charcoal-fueled recreational fires.

During a Stage 2 burn ban:

  • No burning is allowed in ANY wood-burning fireplaces, wood stoves or fireplace inserts (certified or uncertified) or pellet stoves, unless this is your only adequate source of heat.
  • Even those for whom this is their only adequate source of heat cannot generate visible smoke.
  • All outdoor burning is prohibited, even in areas where outdoor burning is not permanently banned. This includes wood- and charcoal-fueled recreational fires.

How do you know if I’m violating the burn ban?

Where there is smoke, there is likely fire ‑and non-compliance with the burn ban. Our agency inspectors are trained to read the density, or “opacity,” of smoke and to determine if visible smoke violates the state’s opacity laws. It is always illegal to generate excessive smoke, defined as 20 percent opacity or more for more than six consecutive minutes, even when a burn ban is not in effect. www.pscleanair.org/images/wood_smoke_opacity_DOE.gif

If you have a device that is legal to use during a Stage 1 burn ban or if this is your only adequate source of heat, you still must burn cleanly and not emit visible smoke. Remember, excessive smoke is illegal at any time, from any device.


How do I burn cleanly and not emit visible smoke?

Make sure you are using only seasoned, dry firewood or compressed energy logs. Don’t damper down your stove— limiting the air to your fire will cause smoke. Check your chimney periodically. If you see smoke, your fire needs more air.

Check out our YouTube site for some brief videos:

Other resources:


What is the penalty for violating a burn ban?

If our inspectors observe a burn ban violation, they will issue a Notice of Violation to the property owner. Notices of Violation carry a maximum fine of up to $1,000.


How can I tell if my wood stove or fireplace insert is certified?

A certified wood stove/fireplace insert would likely have a label on the top indicating it complies with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emission standards. Here is a sample label.

Here are a few other ways to determine whether you have a certified or uncertified device:

  • If it has two solid, metal doors on the front, then it is uncertified.
  • If it has two glass doors, then it is uncertified.
  • If it has one glass door, then more information is needed. If there is a brand/manufacturer name on the device, look for it on the list of EPA-certified wood stoves that meet Washington standards (PDF). Otherwise, you will need to take a picture of it and take it to your nearest hearth dealer.

What if I rely on my wood stove because my primary electric/oil/propane heat is too expensive?

On the few days we have air quality burn bans in place, the use of your (primary) clean heating device is expected in order to keep air quality healthy for you, your family, and your neighbors. The exception is if your wood stove is your only adequate source of heat and you have an approved "no other adequate source of heat" exemption from the Agency.


What does "adequate source of heat" mean?

An “adequate source of heat” is a heating system that is designed to maintain a temperature of 70 degrees F at a point three feet above the floor in each normally inhabited room. We base our assessment on the adequacy of the whole system’s heating capacity, including any parts of the heating system that may have been disconnected, damaged or simply aren’t working. http://www.pscleanair.org/regulated/reg1/1-13.pdf.

Most homes in our area have another adequate source of heat beyond wood stoves, because of building code requirements.

But how do you know if my wood stove or pellet stove is my only adequate source of heat?

In order to receive an exemption, you must have an approved "no other adequate source of heat" exemption from the Agency. To apply for an exemption, please download the application at http://www.pscleanair.org/news/library/pscleanair-adequate_source_heat-exemption_application.pdf or request one to be sent to you at (206) 716-1195, option 1. We review and confirm the information you provide in your completed application with county records. If your application is approved, your exemption is valid for the time stated on your approval letter from the Agency.


My furnace is broken and I can’t afford to fix it – do I qualify for the “no other adequate source of heat” exemption?  

This exemption was designed to identify those homes that have no other way, besides wood burning, to sufficiently heat their homes. As a regulatory agency, we are required to follow the law, which is quite clear: the “no other adequate source of heat” decision is based on the heating system(s) currently in your home.

We cannot take into consideration:

  • Your income level.
  • Ability to pay your heating bills.
  • Whether your system is working.

We do, however, take income level into account to help identify possible assistance programs to help you with your home heating.


My application for a “No Other Adequate Source of Heat” was approved. What now? 

You may continue to burn wood cleanly during air quality burn bans for the time period stated on your approval letter from the Clean Air Agency. Keep your eyes open for an application reminder that we will send to you before the next heating season. Also, regardless of your exemption status, we may contact you to see if you qualify for one of our incentive programs to improve your heating situation.


My application for a “No Other Adequate Source of Heat” was denied. What now?

While you may not be eligible for this specific exemption, you may have extenuating circumstances that make it difficult for you to comply with burn bans. We will contact you to determine if we have an applicable incentive program to help you with your heating system. If you burn wood during an air quality burn ban, you may receive a notice of violation. Should you receive a notice of violation from our inspection staff, you’ll have an opportunity to respond with a detailed explanation of your situation which will be taken into consideration when determining how to resolve your case.


I can’t stay warm in my home without burning wood – where can I go for assistance?

Depending on where you live and your individual circumstances, you may be able to take advantage of rebates and assistance offered by our partner organizations:


What if my furnace or other home heat is not adequate?

If your primary heat source is not adequate and you have an approved exemption from the Agency, you may use your pellet or wood stove during a burn ban to supplement your heat. You are, however, still required to minimize smoke. If agency inspectors observe smoke in excess of 20-percent opacity for six consecutive minutes they will issue a Notice of Violation to the property owner, which could result in a penalty of $1,000. For tips on minimizing smoke, visit: http://www.pscleanair.org/actions/woodstoves/basics.aspx.


How do I report a burn ban violation?

Burn ban violations are subject to a civil penalty of $1,000. To report a burn ban violation, go to our online complaint center at www.pscleanair.org/complaint . Due to the high volume of complaints during a burn ban, we cannot respond to each individual complaint. Rather, we use complaint data to help us identify neighborhoods that are being most impacted by wood smoke during a burn ban so we can focus our enforcement activity there.


What about manufactured logs, like Duraflame or Javalogs, can I use them during a burn ban?

During an air quality burn ban, it is the use of solid-fuel burning devices that is restricted – not the type of fuel. In a Stage 1 ban, for example, you cannot use a fireplace or uncertified wood stove to burn any solid fuel, not even a manufactured log. Similarly in a Stage 2 burn ban, it’s the use of any wood stove, fireplace or pellet stove that is prohibited.

When a burn ban is not in effect, however, manufactured logs are a cleaner alternative to cord wood for fireplace fires. They produce approximately 70 percent less pollution than cord wood. Should you opt to burn manufactured logs, please note that many varieties are not suitable for wood stoves and fireplace inserts – check the guidelines on the wrapper to ensure compatibility with your device.


I thought pellet stoves burn much cleaner than wood stoves. Why are they included in Stage 2 burn bans?

Pellet stoves do indeed burn significantly cleaner than wood stoves, and generate much less air pollution. They are not pollution-free, however. Pellets are a solid fuel, which when combusted, still generate pollution. This graphic illustrates the comparative emissions generated by different home heating devices: www.pscleanair.org/images/chart_circles.gif.

Because pellet stoves are cleaner than fireplaces and uncertified woodstoves, they are permitted during a Stage One burn ban. No solid fuel-burning devices, however, are allowed to be used during a Stage Two burn ban.


My wood stove was fully-loaded when I found out about the burn ban. What should I do?

You do not need to take extreme measures to put out your current fire. When a burn ban is issued, there is a window of time before the burn ban goes into effect. After the burn ban goes into effect, there is a another 3 hours before enforcement patrols start. This allows for folks to safely extinguish existing fires before being subject to a penalty.

The safest practice during winter months, especially when there is burn ban potential, is to only burn small, hot fires. If you have a fire burning when a burn ban is issued, open your damper completely to allow as much as possible so the fire can burn hot and extinguish quickly.

Do NOT damper down and allow your fire to smolder, this will generate visible smoke for an extended period of time and you are subject to a violation.

Visit http://www.pscleanair.org/news/agencynews.aspx to connect with us via email notification, text message*, Facebook, or Twitter and be among the first to know when a burn ban is issued.

More information on burning and wood smoke can be found here: www.pscleanair.org/actions/woodstoves/basics.aspx.

*At this time, text message notifications are only available for Pierce county residents.


Can I use my barbecue grill during a burn ban? What about my chiminea?

Charcoal barbecues and other outdoor wood-burning devices such as chimineas, outdoor fireplaces, and fire bowls are considered ‘recreational fire’ devices. Recreational fires using solid fuel – such as charcoal or wood – are always prohibited during air-quality burn bans. Wood and charcoal fires lit in chimineas, fire pits, fire bowls and similar devices fall under this definition.

Propane and natural gas grills, patio heaters and fire pits can be used during a burn ban.

For more information, see the Washington Administrative Code Section 173-425-050(3a).

 

Are beach bonfires allowed during a burn ban?

No. Bonfires are considered recreational fires, and are prohibited during air quality burn bans. This includes bonfires or beach fires at city and state parks, such as those traditionally lit during the holiday season for the Christmas Ships.

 

What happens if there is a power outage during a burn ban? Can I use my wood stove then?

We recognize the importance of providing heat for your family. If your only option is a wood stove, we understand your need to use it. However, you must minimize smoke by burning properly; excess smoke is always illegal.

 

It’s windy outside. Why is there a burn ban?

We issue burn bans on a county-wide basis. This is to help maintain healthy air throughout the entire region. Our counties, however, have very diverse landscapes. Sometimes, one part of a county may experience stagnant weather conditions and elevated pollution levels, while in another part of the county it’s windy and the air is somewhat cleaner.

 

The Air Quality Index (AQI) says air quality is “good/moderate.” Why is there a burn ban?

We issue burn bans when we expect air pollution to worsen. Sometimes the AQI may read “good” or “moderate” at the time we issue a ban; that means we anticipate that air pollution will build up soon. Pollution tends to build slowly during the day and is typically worst at night and early morning hours.

 

Why does a burn ban apply to the entire county? How can every area in the county have unhealthy air?

Air quality can indeed vary throughout our large counties. We issue bans on a county-wide basis for clearly communicating it to the public and media, and to help maintain healthy air throughout the region.

 

Why are there so many more burn bans for Pierce and Snohomish counties but not in the major metropolitan areas in King County? Is Seattle air cleaner?

Seattle’s air is not necessarily cleaner than in Pierce and Snohomish counties. Generally, Pierce and Snohomish counties tend to have more burn bans because they reach higher pollution levels more frequently. This is in part because they have more wood burning communities in highly-populated, compact areas. It also tends to be a bit more windy in Seattle and parts of King County, which helps blow away the pollution and keep it from reaching unhealthy levels.