City of Davis Wood Burning Program

On Tuesday, October 23, 2012, the City Council unanimously passed a Wood Burning Ban pilot project, to begin November 1, 2012 and end on March 1, 2013. (The city has given this project the unfortunate name, "Pilot Mandatory Wood Burning Program"). Residents who burn on "curtailment days," also called "no-burn days," (as designated by the city, when PM2.5 particle counts reach 25 micrograms per cubic meter or higher) and who receive complaints from neighbors could be fined by the city up to $100 for the first offense, though the council stipulated in the ordinance that the first infraction, at least, should result in only a warning. Further offenses could bring even higher fines. Had this ordinance been in effect in 2011-2012, there would have been about 15-20 curtailment days. In 2013, no-burn days were declared on Nov. 23, Dec. 3, Dec. 4, Dec. 11, Dec. 19, Dec. 28, Jan. 3-5, Jan. 7, and Jan. 16-19, for a total of fourteen no-burn days.

There are exemptions for residents who use EPA Phase II-certified wood-burning devices and those who burn manufactured logs in stoves or in open-hearth fireplaces, as long as they don't emanate visible smoke. Low-income residents can apply to the city for the right to burn on no-burn days.

Complaints about burning on no-burn days can be made online here (the preferred method) or by calling 530-757-5686. You can find out whether a given day is a no-burn day by going to this webpage.

Media coverage about the passage of the pilot program is here and here.

See also Don't Light Tonight.


A wood burning ban was debated (August-December 2008) at the City Council level. The Council discussed the recommendations from the Natural Resources Commission and City staff at their meeting on Tuesday, January 6, 2009. They decided to postpone adopting recommendations until more data on local health effects and smoke behavior was available. A study conducted by UC Davis' DELTA Group from December 2008 through February 2009 showed that Davis's air quality is "well below" the federal mandate for clean air. In September 2009, a voluntary no-burn policy was adopted. Forecasted no-burn days will be posted on the city's website and on the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District's website (also see the latter site for email notifications).

However, some are still concerned about the effects that residents' fireplaces could have on the air quality of their immediate neighbors and think that this "nearest-neighbor" impact is the cause of the health problems reported by Davisites. In Fall 2009 through Winter 2010, the DELTA Group monitored airborne pollutants in concentrated areas to see if correlations could be found with neighbors' chimney smoke. They asked residents to report air quality problems in their neighborhood to help with the data collection, which was done by calling the Public Works Department at 530-757-5686 or the air quality district at 800-246-3660, or online by using the Citizen Request Manager. Provide the location of smoke, date and time it was detected, speed and direction of wind, the look and smell of the smoke, and the possible source. Again, this was to help with the data collection, and using a fireplace is not illegal (yet), so proponents said you should not think of this as snitching. The collection of unbiased information to define the situation is not a bad thing. The DELTA Group generally adds a recommendation to their reports.

Proponents of the ban have started a non-profit organization Yolo Clean Air. Some argue that it's a load of hooey and that truckers and farmers have lobbyists while the average homeowner does not. Rice fields are not generally burned anymore, but other material like orchard prunings are often still burned. Another valid question specific to the local impact theory is that, as all activities have an impact on your direct surroundings, perhaps accidentally triggering asthma is an acceptable consequence best dealt with by neighbors following up and communicating with each other rather than a zero tolerance policy. Sending people with guns to each others houses to enforce demands rather than talking may eventually create a much much worse problem than the original issue.

Wood burning is well known to increase small particulate pollution, even if it's current contribution in Davis is unknown. Many cities and states have differing regulation regarding air quality and wood burning. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has a national "Burn Wise" page that emphasizes the importance of burning the right wood, the right way, in the right wood-burning appliance to protect your home, health, and the air we breathe. Within this site you will find information for consumers to make informed decisions about what it means to burn wise. State and local agencies will discover ways to improve air quality in their communities through changeout programs and education. One of these change-out programs took place in Sacramento in 2005, resulting in replacement of older wood-burning stoves for newer, EPA certified ones.

A regional "Basin Control Council" developed a smoke management plan that includes "Don't Light Tonight," a working system that advises the public when to burn and when to hold back through several avenues. The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, along with the Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD, coordinate and enforce these policies. The draft ordinance recommends reducing "allowable burn days" using a "wind speed methodology ... IN ADDITION" to that used for "Don't Light Tonight." so that Davis would be more restrictive and attempt to achieve lower pollution levels.

The Yolo-Solano AQMD has an "incentive program to encourage home-owners to voluntarily replace their old appliances with cleaner burning EPA Phase II-certified appliances. These EPA-certified appliances are designed to significantly reduce the amount of particulate matter emitted into the air by causing wood to burn much more efficiently.” These "appliances" would not be exempted from the draft ordinance, and would be subject to a six-hour burning limit in any 24 hour period.

   1.  Wood burning will only be allowed on “Allowable Burn Days” defined as a forecasted
        average regional PM2.5 of 25 ug/m3 or lower and a forecasted average wind speed
        from 6 PM to midnight of 5 mph or greater.
   2. Wood burning will be allowed a maximum of 6 hours per day per residence and only
       burning of seasoned dry wood is allowed.
   3. Beginning March 1, 2010, wood burning is only allowed in EPA Phase II-Certified
       wood and pellet stoves and prohibited in fire places or non-EPA certified appliances.
   4. A one time permit is required (for law enforcement and educational purposes).
  • This is just one of the many proposed bans in Davis


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2008-12-18 23:09:00   I believe that, when educating adults to change behavior, emphasis on positive steps is MUCH more effective than making people feel bad and emphasizing negative (possible) consequences. In this respect, the proponents of this ordinance have given a template for what not to do — such as disparaging the response to "Don't Light Tonight." I've already heard and read comments from people who should be concerned about air pollution and are now feeling like use of their "appliances" is a way of saying "eff you" to people who want to interfere in their lives.

We invested in an EPA-certified stove for my house. Instead of feeling responsible and good after shelling out lots of money, I feel like I'm at risk of not being able to use what I invested in. I may or may not be contributing to someone's asthma. Perhaps the data presented will become more convincing to me, or perhaps further study will identify more significant sources of pollution.

Yolo Clean Air has run advertisements that include this gem: "[a]ll it takes is for one person to fail to [act] responsibly and a dangerous neighborhood condition could result, potentially sending an innocent party to the hospital in [...] distress." I, too, am concerned about the havoc automobiles can wreak!!! But is a ban on SUVs, and strong restrictions on other cars the solution? Perhaps, but it's going to take some time and persuasion before we legislate that! And that's why I support some change to existing regulations, but not the ordinance as proposed now. —DougWalter

2008-12-19 07:02:52   What about the issue of someone who's furnace breaks after 2011? Or the "taking" by the city of fireplaces without compensation? The whole approach seems wrong. —JasonAller

  • That isn't a medical possibility. At best, asthma can be improved slightly through exercise, but it's not going to help someone with severe asthma — the people most likely to be affected by the smoke. Just to be clear, I'm not defending the ban; I haven't decided what to think about it, because I can see the arguments on both sides. But it's a common mistake to think that people with asthma are out of shape. For example, Jackie Joyner-Kersee has asthma. Note that it was only medicine — very expensive, maintenance medication, I might add — that was able to control (not cure) her asthma, not exercise or diet. —CovertProfessor
  • Sredni: Your argument is predicated on the assumption that if someone does something that negatively affects someone else, it is the responsibility of the person who is impacted by the first person's action to take the time, expense, and risk associated with the first person's action. Without commenting on this particular ban at the moment (since I haven't studied it), I'd like to suggest that it would be a far more fair course of action for the person who is causing the impact on other people to be the one who must mitigate those effects. As an example, consider what would happen if someone placed a coal fired power plant right outside your window, such that the smoke from the plant entered your window and caused you health problems. Is it your fault that the plant is polluting your air? No. So why should you be responsible for dealing with its effects, rather than the owner of the power plant, who has caused the problem in the first place. Likewise, why should an asthma sufferer increase their health risk because someone decides to burn wood in their neighborhood, or be forced to wear a mask, take additional medication, etc. The person who is burning the wood is enjoying all of the benefits of the wood burning, while increasing pollution and health problems for everyone else. Therefore, I believe it is the person burning the wood who should be responsible for ensuring that those effects are mitigated, not the asthma sufferer, or anyone else who might be forced to breath in that air. —IDoNotExist

2009-01-04 21:40:37   Jason: You appear to be referring to the compensation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." There are two problems with using this argument here. One is that (assuming that the Fifth Amendment is the basis for your statement), your fireplace is not being "taken" at all, for public use or not. The other problem (even if you are not referring to the fifth amendment) is that if your argument were to hold true, then any restriction at all by the government on any use of property would be unconstitutional. For example, your neighbors could choose to build a landfill, power plant, jail, or anything that you might happen to consider undesirable or detrimental to your property values right next to your property and you would have no recourse. Likewise, the government would be unable to regulate the use of cars (speed limits would restrict use of your property), maintenance of airplanes (requiring maintenance would restrict how often a plane could fly, after all), or anything else. Even stock would be affected, since a new government law might change how a company could operate within the country, and the stock is your property after all. The government has, and has always had, the ability to restrict how property is used. Yes, it can't take the property away from you without paying you for it. But that's not what is happening here. While you may have bought your fireplace with the belief that you would always be able to use it without any restrictions, there are a great many restrictions that have been placed on many different kinds of property over the years by governments at all levels, including after their purchase, so this doesn't seem like a reasonable assumption to make. —IDoNotExist

  • I guess I'd have to refer to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, "the rule is that, while property may be regulated to a certain extent, if regulation goes too far, it will be recognized as a taking". My take on the situation is that a complete ban on the use of real property is regulation that has gone beyond guidance in the use of that property, perhaps as to quantity, method, time of use, or other constraint. Dictating that the property in question can't be used at all goes too far, thus I call it a taking and ask where the compensation is. I don't do this because I've ever used my fireplace, or even plan to, but because I think that this represents a poorly thought out and badly written piece of regulation. —JasonAller

2009-01-05 01:25:49   Ok. How does your view of "taking" hold up under the following examples?

1) You buy a product that is later legislated to be illegal because use of that product results in people dying rather frequently. 2) You buy a house, but the house is made from SuperAsbestos (much better than the regular stuff at causing cancer.) This material is found to be so lethal that anyone owning the house is required to move out immediately. 3) You buy some property. You intended to use the property for a certain use, but now that use is made illegal, so you can't. 4) Same as 3, but you didn't think of using the property for that use until after it became illegal, then discovered that you couldn't because it was already illegal.

Another twist on the "taking" idea. Suppose your neighbor starts polluting the air coming into your home with smoke or something else, thus preventing you from living there. Did the neighbor take your property? The result is the same - you can't use it for the thing you bought it for. But in this case, the entity preventing that use is the neighbor, not the government. If you argue that the neighbor is taking your property (which it seems to me that they are by your definition of taking), then shouldn't your neighbor be compensating you for taking your property (and do they then own it?!) If not, then how can it be taking your property when the government passes a law, but not when the neighbor does it? —IDoNotExist

  • The examples you use all revolve around some change occurring, or something being discovered. This really isn't true for wood burning, since everyone knows that it happens and understands when they buy a property that their neighbors may periodically burn wood. —JoePomidor
    • But many people in Davis bought their houses decades ago, when the harmful effects of smoke weren't fully known. I was actually pretty surprised to learn how many people burn wood here. Coming from a colder climate, I wouldn't have thought that this climate warranted wood fires. —CovertProfessor

2009-01-05 10:37:32   Well, let me give you an example. It used to be that people made home insulation out of asbestos. It had nice fireproof properties. The use of asbestos then became illegal because it was found to be unsafe. Properties containing asbestos are now not worth as much. Some properties were condemned because they had loose asbestos. Did someone take away the property? No.

When you purchase something, you are taking on some risk by buying it. No one guarantees the value or usefulness to you of your property (with the exception of warranties, or things like the CA lemon law.) You have no guarantee that the use of that property will not become illegal in the future. Whether or not the law making it illegal makes sense or is a good idea is a different question.

Continuing on the wood burning example, suppose that your neighbor developed asthma and discovered a health risk due to wood burning. Previously, you were not impacting them, but now you are. I think it's still your responsibility as the wood burner to mitigate the effects, because you are causing the health impact to them. It's your choice to burn wood. Its not their choice to have asthma. —IDoNotExist

2009-01-05 10:45:38   Another example. Various drugs that are now illegal used to be legal and common in the past. (See the real secret ingredient in Coca Cola, for example.) Those could be purchased legally before. For various reasons, those drugs became illegal, not just to use, but also to possess! While I'm not sure how people got rid of what they already owned, the government was not taking away the property. If it had, the government would then own those drugs. It was simply making it illegal to be in possession of them. Did people lose money on it? Sure. Did it violate the fifth amendment? Nope.

Another example: The federal government made analog TVs useless starting next month, at least unless you buy a digital tuner for it. Some people spent a lot of money on their analog TVs. The government didn't take away the TV - you can still use it for whatever you like. But you'll have to spend some money to use it as a receiver for digital over the air broadcasts. —IDoNotExist

  • The example I keep thinking of is the radar detector, which many people bought only to have it made illegal in their state. —CovertProfessor

2009-01-05 11:11:30   My whole problem with the justification of the ban from a medical point of view is that almost everything we do can, in some incidental way, harm others. If I own a dog, there is certainly plenty of opportunity for that to adversely affect others, from it attacking them (almost certainly my fault) to them having an allergic reaction (not really my fault). I disagree that this means that dogs should be outlawed, or that only certain kinds of dogs should be allowed. What it should mean is that everyone, not just the owner, takes care to minimize the possibility of a problem arising. I keep my dog on a leash, and people who know they are allergic stay away from it. In another example, some people are very, very allergic to peanuts, and can have serious medical problems from even the tiniest exposure. Does that mean that we should outlaw peanuts? Or just that I personally shouldn't be able to grow them in my yard? —JoePomidor

  • It's a little harder to avoid the outdoors, though. This time of year, when I take my dog for a walk at night (on leash), both he and I come home smelling like smoke, and the air is really thick, especially on foggy nights. It's not a stretch for me to imagine that someone with respiratory problems — and I have a lot of elderly neighbors — would have a tough time of it. —CovertProfessor
    • True, true. I dunno, this ban seems like the sort of thing that a lot of well-meaning folks thought up without actually finding out if those who they believe are affected really care that much. I'd be interested to hear from people who actually do have problems with the smoke, and to see what kind of proportion of the general populace they represent. —JoePomidor
      • Yeah, I don't know the proportions either — just one of the aforementioned elderly neighbors who spoke to me very passionately on the subject. I felt bad for her, and it made me rethink things a bit. Before that, I'd been against the ban. Now (despite what I've written above) I'm not sure, but I did want to present the case for the other side. As you say, I think it's well-meaning. —CovertProfessor

2009-01-05 12:39:15   I know people who are definitely affected by that sort of thing. One even has trouble breathing if someone sprays some perfume around them.

On the peanut example, you wouldn't need to ban peanuts. But there are lots of foods you can buy that have labels that say that the food was processed on a machine that also processes peanuts. Likewise, at some schools, kids are banned from bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to certain classrooms because exposure to peanuts could kill a kid in the class.

In the case of wood burning, there are quite a few reasons why someone might want to enact a ban that affect everyone: -Increasesd CO2 and CO emmissions. Imagine how many cars it would take to emit the same amount of pollutants as one fire at home.

  • I think you have this inverted: imagine how many fireplaces it takes to pollute in a year as much as driving 15,000 miles (although the national average appears to be declining). My real point is that a lot of assumptions that have gone into this ordinance have not been tested by research. Whether or not this is a "taking," it is intrusive — as is any form of air pollution — and involves Davis Police in an enforcement action that will not be well supported, given the current divided state of the populace. Hence, I support the City staff recommendation, more investigation, wood burning under appropriate atmospheric conditions, and sharing more information among those affected (e.g. those sensitive to smoke, those who use wood for heat).—DougWalter

-The above contributes to global warming. Yeah, your individual fire doesn't contributed much, but put together, everyone's fires do. We're aware that lots of individual contributions are causing major changes to our environment. Expecting everyone to minimize their contributions individually clearly doesn't work. So some legislation is required.

-Pollution is particularly bad in the central valley. On a local level, this can help a lot with air quality for everyone. —IDoNotExist

  • But if you replace wood heating with natural gas heating, this will allow some methane to escape to the atmosphere. There, the methane will heat the atmosphere for the next couple years, as it's a strong greenhouse gas that isn't subject to atmospheric cleaners like hydroxyl radicals as much as other bigger hydrocarbons. Byproducts of wood burning include those larger hydrocarbons, and add more particulates to the atmosphere. Those pollutants form particulates that scatter light and reduce global temperatures. But the blacker the smoke is, the more it heats the atmosphere. And the more particulates, the greater the health risks. And if soot is deposited on snow, it is strongly warming. Long story short: dry wood burned on a hot fire isn't that dirty or bad for global warming, but idiots who burn wet wood on cooler fires spoil it for the rest of us. Remember, complete combustion means clean combustion. However, there are really strong health benefits locally to reducing wood burning (and therefore PM10 levels). —BrentLaabs
  • Wood will eventually break down into the atmospheric carbon dioxide it came from, burned or unburned. Burning it does not contribute to global warming significantly. On the other hand, burning natural gas that was previously permanently (on civilization's time scale) trapped underground does add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. So would heating oil or coal, but I don't believe there's much of that used in Davis.—BrianNeal

2009-01-09 13:23:59   So, what happened at council? —BrentLaabs

  • It seems that they deferred for more study. —JasonAller

2009-01-09 14:11:45   This issue is one of the biggest arguements against becoming a charter city, and giving the city council actual power of regulation. A bad response to a real (if not huge) problem. —RocksandDirt

Is this something that falls outside of the scope of a general law city's powers? Also, I'd like to point out that there's absolutely no reason why Davis couldn't be a chartered city with a narrow charter that says, essentially: "Davis is a chartered city. It may use Choice Voting as detailed further by city ordinance. In all other respects, Davis shall be a general-law city." This is the approach recommended by the Governance Task Force. Somewhere along the line the council decided to make a broad charter and remove the Choice Voting language entirely. Sadly, it doesn't seem possible to get a measure on the ballot (for a proposed narrow, choice-voting specific charter) without it being approved by the council. —PhilipNeustrom

**I'm pretty sure that what they are doing would be acceptable, but under a charter they would be able to use the same poor decision making in many more areas, that right now all they can do is decide how much to pay for. A Narrow charter would be a lovely idea, and is also (as you pointed out) unlikely to happen. —Rocksanddirt

2009-11-01 16:00:00 Keep in mind that air pollution in this valley is caused by agricultural burning and is also caused by diesel traffic on highway 80, there is no data that supports the conclusion that significant air pollution in town is caused by woodburning. —StevenDaubert

  • There is actually a whole lot of data that woodburning causes air pollution, particularly particulates (that's fun to say aloud). However, I don't know of any specific studies for Yolo County/Davis, particularly in regards to specification and attribution of sources. There probably is somewhere, and contrary to your claims, I believe woodburning and diesal differ incredibly much. Yolo County also participated in the EPA supported wood-stove changeout program, for all of the reasons described. Sacramento is specifically mentioned in regards to wood-burning stoves. Fireplaces and whether they're using the right types of wood are probably more of what people are talking about. The EPA has been looking at this for years and years, in many cities and states. Many of these also have regulations about what can and when it can be burned. I love a great fire, but I think it's a bit funny that many people I know in Davis vehemently dislike SUV's or oppose housing developments, but wave off the detrimental effects of burning. To places like Reno, it's a serious, serious air problem. Trying to tackle it before it becomes such a big problem in Davis shouldn't be shrugged off so quick. We're eco-conscious and prevention is nearly always the better answer. I think while it may seem silly to a lot of people, taking it on early is ultimately a better choice. This doesn't necessarily translate to a legislative ban on burning — but upgrade to EPA certified stoves if that's what you use, make sure you use the right types of wood and they've been properly cured and aged, don't burn on certified bad-air "no burn" days, and basically do the same part to help out the environment we regularly do in regards to transportation, biking, and reducing unnecessary driving and pollution. -ES
    • your talking about incorrect wood burning, something that brent has already touched upon. This article has a heavy negative slant against wood burning, I'm trying to play devils advocate cause there are two sides to this issue. No one reads the comments anyways which is why I'm putting it in the body —StevenDaubert
      • Perhaps the city should instead try to commission a study to figure out the relative usage of proper vs improper burning methods and materials. -ES
      • How would you enforce the use of one kind of wood burning method over another? It's not something that the city could possibly verigy without coming into people's homes... -IDoNotExist
  • This astounds me....another ridiculous ban idea. —PeteB

2010-12-09 06:53:30   Maybe the city can fix this: provide furnaces that are efficient- there are a lot of Davis residents who don't have the $ to replace their old clunker, inefficient furnaces, City of Davis raisies water rates without considering that not all of use can afford those rate hikes, at some level, people who lack resources might be considered. Liz —lizwise

2011-03-24 16:46:23   I am a coal burner myself.... —JoshLawson

Why don't the wood burners just look into smething that produces more heat, uses less wood, and keeps the outer environment cleaner overall due to basic physics... something like or Personally, I think it's silly in general as there is little, if anything, wrong with wood burning and it is much less harmful in every aspect than electrical or gas heat. — Wes-P

2012-12-01 10:06:32   It's becoming clearer and clearer why people in other states refer to California as "Kalifornia." Look at all the millions of other cities in the country where it's legal to use a fireplace (shudder... the horror, the horror). Where are all the residents choking, hacking and gagging from that awful fireplace pollution? Why don't they just make it illegal to get out of bed in the morning? —RonMorgan