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Air District opens applications for backyard burns

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Backyards outside city limits in San Luis Obispo County could get smoky because burn season is officially underway.

After a sporadic period of winter rainfall heightened vegetation moisture levels, the SLO County Fire Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) declared burn season open effective Jan. 3. SLO County residents living in single family or duplex residences beyond city limits and urban and village rural lines can obtain burn permits from the county Air Pollution Control District (APCD). With a valid permit, agricultural burning is also allowed in order to eliminate green waste material.

FIERY PARTNERSHIP The SLO County Fire Department partnered with Cal Fire to announce burn season starting Jan. 3, and it usually lasts until the first week of April. - SCREENSHOT FROM SLO COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT'S PRESS RELEASE
  • Screenshot From Slo County Fire Department's Press Release
  • FIERY PARTNERSHIP The SLO County Fire Department partnered with Cal Fire to announce burn season starting Jan. 3, and it usually lasts until the first week of April.

"Typically, the burn season runs between now and usually April 1. Then, it turns into fire season," said Meghan Field, the APCD's air quality specialist. "That's when they don't allow backyard burning anymore. Agriculturalists can still burn at that time until Cal Fire issues a burn ban."

Backyard burning is a highly controlled activity that can be dangerous if the rules aren't strictly complied with. Field said that residents living within city boundaries are prohibited from burning because of their proximity to sensitive elements like schools, compact neighborhoods, and people who are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of particulate matter.

"I remember about 10 years ago, we started [burn season] sooner because we had more rainfall. It's really dependent on how many inches of rain we receive prior to starting burn season. They wanted to make sure we had over 4 inches of rain," Field said.

She added that it's critical for eligible residents to check if a particular time they picked for burnings falls on a burn day. Field told New Times that the California Air Resources Board looks at the meteorological conditions and wind patterns before determining burn days.

"You want there to be enough wind so that smoke moves but not too much where it can get out of control. There's a lot of forecasting that's involved," she said.

Burn days can be monitored at the top of the APCD website (slocleanair.org) or by calling the Burn Day Hotline at (800) 834-2876. Field said to follow the APCD on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the most updated burn day notifications. Their texting program called AirAware also provides mobile alerts.

She noted other tips like having the driest possible burn materials, and to finish burnings by 4 p.m. when burn time ends. Flouting these rules will result in financial penalties.

Both backyard and agricultural permits cost $50 each, with the former being valid until burn season ends in April and the latter valid through the calendar year or until the burn ban goes into motion. Field said that the APCD offices already received 80 to 100 permit applications since Jan. 3.

"People could be within city limits and not realize it. I feel like that's probably the only reason why an application wouldn't be accepted," she said. "It's really helpful for people to be in the loop on what's going on with air quality in SLO County." Δ

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