Starting Thursday, valley residents should look at the air district's forecast before setting flame to their firewood.

Residents can check with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to find out if residential wood burning is allowed once the seasonal "Check Before You Burn" program kicks into gear Nov 1.

The wintertime pollution prevention program is in its 10th season and aims to reduce levels of harmful particulate matter in the air basin, which includes part of Kern County, according to an air district news release. Fine-particulate matter can aggravate repository illnesses such as asthma and cause lung infections and bronchitis, the news release said, and has also been connected to increasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

According to the air district, residential wood burning is the "single largest source" of harmful particulate matter in the winter.

"(Check Before You Burn is) a health protection regulation and it makes a difference," said air district spokeswoman Janelle Schneider.

Before residents light a fire, they "need to take their neighbors' health into account as well as their own," she added.

On no burn days, residential wood burning, including fireplaces, pellet stoves, wood-burning inserts and heaters, and outdoor apparatus such as chimineas and fire pits, are forbidden. The restriction does not apply to gas fireplaces.

Even on days when residential wood burning is allowed, the district's news release recommended residents use dry, seasoned wood or manufactured fire logs.

Wood-burning prohibitions do not apply if a residence doesn't have access to natural gas, "even if propane is used," or if burning solid fuel is the only way to heat the residence, the news release said.

Residents who disregard the prohibition can be fined. Inspectors watch for the signs of burning and the air district also takes community complaints, Schneider said.

The program continues through the end of February.