Every emission counts when you live in the downwind end of a valley that traps air pollution close to the ground.

Traps it where we breathe.

During the winter, the largest generator of the valley's air pollution comes from an otherwise pleasant source: the warm glow of the home hearth, the residential fireplace, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

The district's annual wintertime "Check Before You Burn" program begins Wednesday, and a key component of the program is a daily wood-burning declaration for each of the eight valley counties. The three declaration levels are "No Burning for All," "No Burning Unless Registered" and "No Restrictions, Burning Discouraged."

The second one was added in 2014, after the air district amended the rules to allow users of registered low-emission devices to burn more frequently than they were allowed in the past.

Conversely, those with old technology are asked to burn on fewer days in the hope that more residents will upgrade to cleaner technology or limit the burning of wood to a few times a year.

Even better, air officials say, is eliminating wood burning altogether.

"The Check Before You Burn program provides an opportunity for valley residents to do their part to help reduce air pollution and improve public health throughout the San Joaquin Valley," the district's executive director Seyed Sadredin, said in a news release.

Check Before You Burn runs Nov. 1 through the end of February each year. Daily burn statuses are available by calling 1-800-SMOG INFO, by downloading the free iPhone app "Valley Air" from the App Store, or valley residents may sign up for email notifications by visiting www.valleyair.org/CBYB.

In order to take advantage of additional burn days, Valley residents should register their clean EPA Phase II wood or pellet burning device with the district by visiting www.valleyair.org/CBYBregistration.

Valley residents wanting to switch out older wood-burning devices for a cleaner model can take advantage of the district’s Burn Cleaner grants which provide $1,000 for certified wood, pellet inserts, freestanding stoves or natural gas inserts or $2,500 for eligible low-income applicants for all devices.

An additional $500 is available to all applicants for the installation costs on a natural gas device. To participate in this program visit www.valleyair.org/burncleaner.

"Wood smoke is one of the most dangerous pollutants that you can expose yourself, your children, and your neighbors to," Sadredin said. "Prolonged exposure to wood smoke can lead to pulmonary arterial hypertension, pulmonary heart disease, heart failure and cancer."

There are two exceptions to wood-burning prohibitions: If the residence does not have another source of heat or if the residence does not have access to natural-gas service (even if propane is used), they are exempt from the rule and may continue to use their device. Residents may get exemption information at www.valleyair.org/Rule4901. Additionally, fireplace inserts or stoves that run solely on gas or propane, and never burn wood, continue to be exempt from the rule.

However, wood-burning declarations do apply to outdoor devices and chimineas.

As onerous as the rules may once have seemed, evidence clearly shows that they have made a difference.

Over the last 15 years, Kern County has had an approximately 74 percent decrease in days exceeding the 24-hour PM2.5 standard," Cassandra Melching, an outreach & communications representative for the district, said in an email.

Last year "was the valley’s best year for PM2.5 on record," she said, "and the year 2017 is on track to potentially be even better."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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