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It's time to check before you burn
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It's that time of the year.

No, not only Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It's also that time of the year to check before you burn, for the sake of the environment, which in turn will help you breathe easier. Check Before You Burn season started when the calendar rolled to November - and it orders people to make a phone call or send an e-mail to the Valley Air District before throwing wood into the fireplace. The organization also has a Web site where people can go to see the wood-burning forecasts.

And in order to better protect the public health from harmful effects of particulate matter, the Valley Air District made changes to the residential wood-burning curtailment rule and lowered the threshold for declaring curtailments.

The ban includes solid wood, wood pellets and manufactured fire logs.

There will be just two levels of wood-burning forecast. It's either "Wood Burning Prohibited" or "Please Burn Cleanly," depending on the day's air quality. These changes occurred to increase the level of protection of public health from particulate matter, which has been linked to bronchial infections, chronic lung disease and lung cancer. Residential wood burning can put as much as 24 tons of the particulate matter into the air on a typical winter day in the Valley.

People who burn on "no-burn" days - which is defined when air quality is forecast to be 26 to 35 micrograms per cubic meter - will be fined $50 for first-time violations. The fines increase with additional violations.

Last year, 88 citations were issued in the Valley, as smoke from the chimney was the obvious sign.

There are exemptions to the wood-burning prohibitions, however: If you live in an area where there is no natural-gas service or if wood-burning is your only source of heat.

Last year, there were 15 no-burn days in the Valley. That number could triple this season.

"We have the most stringent protections in the state for exposure to particulate matter," said Seyed Sadredin, the Air District's executive director and air pollution control officer. "Our board continues to be aggressive on behalf of the Valley's residents."

Tom Duncan, owner of Duncan Wood Products in Modesto, said the best kind of wood to burn during the winter is almond, since it can last up to four hours and produces small amounts of ash compared to mountain oak wood, which burns for five hours but produces about 10 times as much ash.

Daily wood-burning forecasts are available every day at 4:30 p.m. by visiting, or calling 1-800-766-4463. Wood-burners can also subscribe to

For more information, call the District office for the San Joaquin Valley at 557-6400.