On Oct. 23, the City of Davis issued urgency Ordinance No. 2397, placing restrictions on wood burning.
The ordinance adds Chapter 39A to the Davis Municipal Code, and was declared as urgent due to the importance of the matter to public health and safety.
According to the ordinance, the goal is to restrict emissions from indoor and outdoor wood burning during the “cold weather season” of Nov. 1 through Feb. 28. These burning devices include indoor fireplaces and wood burning stoves, along with outdoor fire pits.
Wood burning will be prohibited during a “curtailment period,” days when the city has determined that the air quality is already unhealthy for sensitive populations such as young children and the elderly. If the concentration of fine particulate matter is forecasted as exceeding 25 micrograms per cubic meter within the City of Davis — the federal standard that is unhealthy for sensitive populations — it is considered a curtailment period and the burning of wood is prohibited.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said UC Davis alumnus Bruce Guttin. “I’m allergic to wood smoke, and anything that inhibits proper oxygen consumption is dangerous for some people. It’s very sensitive for them [Davis City Council] to restrict it.”
A report by the Davis Wood Smoke Scientific Advisory Committee confirmed the toxicity of wood smoke. The Natural Resources Commission of the City of Davis has also analyzed the health impacts of wood burning.
“The Davis Wood Smoke Scientific Advisory Committee confirms … the dangers posed by the accumulation of wood smoke in neighborhood ‘hot spots’ due to the use of residential wood burning devices,” the ordinance said.
Additionally, the ordinance states that the cold weather during these months increases the negative impact wood burning has on the air quality due to the increase of surface temperature inversions. These inversions cause pollutants, such as those from wood smoke, to become concentrated and trapped close to the ground, worsening air quality and exacerbating many respiratory or cardiovascular conditions.
“I lived with a wood burning stove for about three years, and it’s an efficient manner to heat the house,” Guttin said. “But in a dense urban environment, its effects on health and the environment are very different than out in the country.”
The City of Davis will notify residents if it is an “okay to burn” day via a burn status update posted on the city’s website. Each day there is a burn status update for the current day along with the forecasted burn status for the following day.
There are certain exceptions to the ban, however. The ban does not apply to wood burning devices being used in a structure that has no gas or electric heat. It also does not apply during power outages and does not restrict the use of manufactured fire logs.
“It’s a traditional holiday thing, and you don’t want to deny people that experience,” Guttin said. “But it does have its residual effects on people’s health and the environment. In the past, many people burned coal or wood for heat. I’m sure it was a contributing factor to many respiratory conditions.”
Davis residents can also apply for a waiver if their economic situation is such that burning wood is necessary to heat their household. To apply, residents must include information such as their gross monthly income, the number of people in their household, the age of their home and the types of heating devices that are being used.
According to the City of Davis’ website, if the city receives complaints regarding wood burning on a no-burn day, up to two letters of warning will be issued to the wood burner. After a third complaint, they will be referred to the city’s Code Enforcement program. After repeat violations, they are subject to citations up to $100.MEREDITH STURMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.