Burn code season for wood-burning fireplaces and stoves begins

Know the Code: Help keep air quality clean with daily burn code status updates
Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 10:47 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - November marks the start of Burn Code season in Washoe County.

During the winter months, the County’s Health District Air Quality Management Division uses “Keep It Clean; Know the Code,” a color-coded notification program using Green, Yellow, and Red Burn Code icons to inform residents whether lighting wood stoves or fireplaces is advisable or allowed.

“Green meaning you’re okay to burn, yellow meaning we discourage it, reduce burning and red, you’re prohibited to burn,” said Brendan Schnieder, a senior air quality specialist at WCHD.

Burning wood in the wintertime can be a concern when pollution gets trapped in the valleys during cold air inversions. By using the notification program, the county seeks to control the contamination.

According to Schnieder, the Health District has not issued a red code since December 2017.

“Our woodstove regulations that we’ve had in place for 30 years have been working to keep our clean air over time,” he said. “We used to have a very serious problem with a lot less woodstoves and now we actually have more woodstoves but they’re a lot more cleaner.”

The Burn Code Program applies to households with a fireplace, wood stove, pellet stove, or any other wood-burning device. Specific zip codes from Washoe Valley extending up to, and including, Silver Knolls will be affected.

If wood burning is your primary source of heat, you can apply for an exemption through the AQD. You must submit a Sole Source of Heat Declaration each winter season. Contact the AQMD at (775) 784-7200 for a declaration form or visit www.OurCleanAir.com.

“The only thing that should be burned in a wood stove is dry-seasoned firewood. That’s important because if you have sort of wet material of any kind, it emits a lot more air pollution,” said Schnieder.

Violating a red code can result in a warning and or fines.

The Health District enforces codes after receiving and confirming citizen complaints about visible smoke during burn bans, or when AQMD Enforcement staff observe smoke on those days.

Schnieder told KOLO8 News Now, action can only be taken during a Red Burn Code. He adds residents should report a burn if it’s a prohibited day and they see smoke coming out of a chimney and the residence doesn’t have a sole source declaration sign on their window.

WCHD will display burn code updates every day on its website and social media. You can also call (775) 784-7200 to get those updates and sign up for alerts.