America the Messy Yard Police State

Fireplace narcs continue their reign of terror!

Fireplace narcs continue their reign of terror

There were 559 complaints of wood-burning for 2010

Of the 559 complaints, fireplace nannies issued four violations and four written warnings.

Fireplace narcs must witness smoke coming out of a residence's chimney before issuing warnings or violations. Does this mean the fire place narcs don't have an infrared red gun that can measure the heat coming out of a chimney?

I guess the good news is there are only four or five fireplace narcs.


Violations of no-burn rules continue

In 2010, officials received at least 559 complaints

by Michelle Ye Hee Lee - Jan. 2, 2011 08:47 PM

The Arizona Republic

The Valley's chilly weather may seem like the perfect time to huddle around the fireplace, but that is exactly what worries Maricopa County air-quality officials: the health risks posed by emissions from wood-burning.

The Maricopa County Air Quality Department issues no-burn days when the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality determines air contaminants will reach an unhealthful range based on federal guidelines.

The county usually issues no-burn days around Christmas and New Year's, when weather conditions trap pollution close to the ground and when families like to light their fireplaces.

But Valley residents continue to violate no-burn days each year. There were 559 complaints of wood-burning for 2010 as of Dec. 29.

Inspectors must witness and document smoke coming out of a residence's chimney or backyard fire before issuing warnings or violations. That creates a challenge to enforcing no-burn days.

Of the 559 complaints, air-quality inspectors issued four violations and four written warnings.

No-burn days apply specifically to residential wood-burning. There are some exemptions, including if the fireplace is a person's sole source of heat.

Smoke from wood-burning emits particles so tiny that about 30 of them would make up the width of a human hair.

Although people can sneeze out bigger particles, these settle in the lungs and cause health problems, especially for the elderly, children and people with asthma, or lung or heart disease.

"It's hard for people with healthy lungs to breathe when it gets really heavy. But for people who are asthmatic or have respiratory conditions, it can be deadly," said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter.


Volunteer air-quality inspectors patrol the Valley during evenings around the holidays.

People receive a warning on their first violation of no-burn days. For subsequent violations, they are fined increasing amounts, up to $250.

Witnessing smoke coming out of a residential chimney, fire pit or chiminea isn't always easy. People can report violations via e-mail or phone. These complaints are dispatched to inspectors who go to the location and try to spot the chimney in action.

Inspectors log and check out every complaint, but the four or five inspectors driving around during a three-hour shift don't get to all the complaints that night.

On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, there were a total of 85 complaints via phone or e-mail.

Michael Burton, environmental specialist and county air-quality inspector, went to five complaint locations during his shift.

Burton cranked down his truck window when he neared the locations to detect smoke by smell. There were hints of smoke in the air at most of his stops.

There was no visible smoke coming out of the houses in question, so he noted to follow up by sending no-burn-day mailers to the neighborhoods.

"Even though the complaint was specific and you can tell there's something going on, unless you pin it down specifically, you can't give them a violation," Burton said.

If there is smoke, as was the case at his fourth stop near Gilbert Road and University Drive in Mesa, Burton runs the address through the department's database to check for prior violations to determine whether to issue a warning or a fine. Education

Because it's difficult for inspectors to witness active smoke, Maricopa County Air Quality Director Bill Wiley said, the department focuses on educating the public about no-burn days by sending fliers to residences and posting them around neighborhoods, and announcing no-burn days via social media.

This year, the department added an outreach effort: posting signs in English and in Spanish along the roads of areas that commonly have wood-burning complaints.

More people are reporting complaints, but no-burn-day compliance remains a "situation of personal rights versus the rights of the general good," Wiley said.

The goal is to make people aware that no-burn days exist and that burning wood can be harmful to others in their neighborhood, he said.

The Sierra Club's Bahr said combining education with enforcement is important because more people will follow the rules if they know why they should, especially when some people may feel they are being asked to give up a holiday tradition.

"It's a big price to pay for ambience, but people's health is not worth it," Bahr said. "For your own sake and the sake of your neighbors, it's important to abide by those no-burn restrictions."

Maricopa County Fireplace narcs want to throw water on your Christmas day fire!

The Maricopa County "fireplace narcs" or "chimney narcs" want to shut down your Christmas day fires and rain on your Christmas day parade. Hell I am an atheist and still am against these silly government regulations.

I suspect the million or so cars in the Phoenix area put more krap in to the air then all the fireplaces do. I suspect the real reason the Maricopa County "Fireplace narcs" want to put out our Christmas day fires is not to reduce the level of pollution, but to get the Federal money that they receive when their fireplace narcs shut down the fires.


Pollution advisory, 'no burn' restrictions issued

by Shaun McKinnon - Dec. 24, 2010 08:14 PM

The Arizona Republic

On this Christmas morning, there's a chance you're reading this somewhere near a blazing fire, one of the most enduring symbols of the holiday season.

If you are, Maricopa County has a request: Put it out.

As it has often in recent years, the county declared Christmas Eve and Christmas Day no-burn days, warning that the buildup of soot and other pollutants from fireplaces would fill the air with unhealthful dust particles and drape the Valley in haze.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality issued a high-pollution advisory for Saturday, which carries more specific warnings than the health watch issued for Friday. Under a high-pollution advisory, authorities caution everyone to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.

Forecasters said conditions could improve by late Saturday or Sunday, but with the expected buildup of smoke from fireplaces, pollution readings are expected to remain in the unhealthful range.

"It's not something we enjoy, to enforce a no-burn day on a holiday, especially on Christmas Day," said Holly Ward, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Air Quality Department. "But for someone with asthma or bronchitis, it's a health issue. They cannot breathe when the air is so polluted. We believe these restrictions can help us avoid unhealthy air."

Yet the rules, however couched in health warnings, have stoked complaints from people who can't give up the idea of a Christmas fire. They argue that air-quality regulators should concede this one day to tradition.

"I've lived in the Valley all my life, and the one thing that always makes it feel like Christmas is the fact that you can have a fire in the fireplace," Phoenix resident Josh Mihaljevich said. "There needs to be give and take. We don't have snow, we have fire. It signifies Christmastime."

Air-monitoring records suggest others share the sentiment. Last year, Christmas Eve was a no-burn day, yet on a calm Christmas Day, levels of small dust particles at one air-quality monitor spiked to more than twice the limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, presumably because of widespread fireplace use.

Over the past four years, all but one of the county's 14 small-particulate dust violations have occurred during December and January and all but three of those during the two-week holiday season.

The violations involve particles of dust 2.5 micrometers or smaller in diameter (an average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter) that can get into a person's lungs and bloodstream and are linked to asthma, bronchitis and other breathing ailments, as well as heart and cardiovascular disease.

The particles can be produced by vehicle engines, power plants and traffic on dusty roads and highways, but during Christmas week, the main offender is fireplaces because so many are in use at once.

"People like to light a wood-burning fire for ambiance and crackle and the smell of the wood burning," Ward said. "Unfortunately, when everyone lights a fire and you match that with stagnant air, we get the haze and it's what we're breathing in most immediately."

The stagnant air is the key during winter months. A high-pressure ridge develops and creates a sort of bubble over the Valley, trapping cooler air near the ground's surface and, with it, the smoke and dust. The result is the curtain of haze so familiar this time of year. Although a storm system cleared the air of coarser dust particles earlier this week, the small dust particles can accumulate rapidly, especially when so many fireplace owners open the flues at once.

Casaundra Brown moved to Phoenix from Minnesota and finally moved into a townhouse with a fireplace earlier this year. She decorated it for Christmas and hung stockings over the curved adobe-style mantle and looked forward to using it this weekend

"It's definitely added to the Christmas ambiance," she said. "It just looks more welcoming."

Brown said she wouldn't want to break the law, but she wants to understand why the county targets Christmas fires before she gives hers up.

Air-quality forecasters consider the potential for holiday fires as they decide whether to post pollution advisories or declare no-burn days. Sometimes it seems like the fix is in - if it's Christmas or New Year's, it's a no-burn day - but Ward said it's a matter of anticipating the sources of pollution, just as car-pool advisories are posted during ozone season for the next day's rush hour.

"A no-burn day restriction is put into place when our air-quality levels are already approaching unhealthful levels," Ward said. "Rush-hour traffic is not a factor on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but we do know fireplace burning is a tremendous source of pollution on those days."

The county will deploy inspection patrols Saturday and will cite people found violating the no-burn restrictions. First-time violators receive a warning. Repeat offenders could face fines from $50 to $250. Critics call the inspectors the "chimney police" and wonder why anyone would spoil a Christmas Day gathering with a citation for a little fire.

"It's a tough thing, sending them out," Ward said. "We're relying on folks to know the air quality is poor. It's such a challenge because this is not a job for government alone. It's so reliant on what everyone does. You can see the results in haze building up."

Maricopa County officials want to avoid the sort of federal sanctions for the small dust particle pollution that could be imposed as early as January for high levels of larger particles, those 10 micrometers in diameter or larger. If the county continues to exceed EPA standards for smaller particles, it could be forced to impose stricter rules and penalties.

Michael Sigmon owns a house in Phoenix with a larger wood-burning fireplace. He said he likes the atmosphere a fire creates, but he also hikes Piestewa Peak regularly and sees the haze when it builds.

"These restrictions aren't put there for no reason," he said. "It would be nice to have a fire that night, but I'm not going to be put out if there's a no-burn."


America the Messy Yard Police State