PHOENIX — People who were planning to curl in front of a fire in metro Phoenix during the holidays are getting a disappointing message from air-quality regulators: You can’t use wood-burning fireplaces on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
No-burn days have been called in Maricopa County for Sunday and Monday because air pollution levels are expected to exceed federal health standards. The ban applies to burning-wood in fireplaces and outdoor fire pits, though gas and electric heaters are allowed.
Over the years, such restrictions have been ordered in metro Phoenix during the holidays when stagnant air and winter temperature inversions trap pollution close to the ground. Those who violate the rules risk being ticketed, though no such violations were issued in Maricopa County during last year’s holiday season.
Bob Huhn, a spokesman for county environmental regulators, acknowledged the difficulties of having only five to 10 air-quality inspectors responsible for policing a metro area with 4.2 million people.
“We don’t necessarily want to fine people. We want to spread the message,” Huhn said, explaining that illegal wood-burning carries real-life consequences for people and the county.
Smoke and soot from wood-burning pose risks to people with asthma and other respiratory ailments. The county could face fines, loss of federal funding and tougher regulations such as more no-burn days if found to have violated federal standards.
“This is an appeal to the community to do the right thing voluntarily,” said Timothy Franquist, the air quality division chief at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
First-time violators will receive a warning, while repeat offenders can face fines of up to $250 per violation.
Sustained winds and rain could break up the pollution, but the National Weather Service says no such weather is in the forecast for metro Phoenix in the coming days.
South and west Phoenix, where pollutant levels during the holiday have traditionally been high, are particular areas of concern for regulators. Both areas have older homes that tend to have wood-burning fireplaces, and holiday bonfires are popular in some of the neighborhoods there.
State regulators also issued a high pollution advisory for the Nogales area for Sunday and Monday. No restrictions have been issued on wood burning in Nogales.