Sunny days, smoky nights

Inversion layer is holding in pollution

It’s hard not to enjoy this unusually sunny winter weather we’ve been having, but it’s also hard not to feel a little anxious about the lack of storms, for a couple of reasons: They bring life-giving water, and they clear the air.

As you may have noticed, there’s a lot of smoke in the air these days. Last year, when the Chico City Council passed an ordinance mandating no-burn days for home fireplaces and non-EPA-certified wood heaters during winter months, opponents argued it was unnecessary. Tests showed the air was clear, they said, which proved that the existing voluntary program, “Check before you light,” was working.

But last winter was wet and stormy and washed away residential smoke. This winter an inversion layer has settled over Chico like a lid on a pot, and the smoke is staying put. That’s why Chico has exceeded federal air-quality standards 22 times since Nov. 1, 2011, according to the Butte County Air Quality Management District.

This doesn’t mean the city’s mandatory program isn’t having an impact. The AQMD’s Armen Kamian reports that the number of people requesting email and Twitter alerts has increased “exponentially” this winter, which suggests the program is having an effect.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to all who burn wood to be conscious of weather conditions and act accordingly. The next time you want to light a fire on a day like these, ask yourself: Is my desire for a fire more important than an asthmatic child’s desire to breathe freely? Think about that, and be kind.

Besides, federal officials are watching Chico to see how often it fails to meet national clean-air standards. If we don’t keep our air clean, they’ll force us to take stricter measures to do so.