Christmas Fire Has Consequences For Fresno Families

FRESNO, Calif. Merced County was the only place where wood burning was allowed, unless it's a home's only source of heat or the home doesn't have natural gas.

But for many families, the holidays take precedence over the rules.

Christmas is a time for fun by the fire for Spencer Byers.

His dad lit up a few logs on a cold morning while the kids opened their holiday haul, forgetting for a second about the Valley's air quality.

"I was asleep and [my wife] said 'Hey can you do a fire? I've been wanting a fire all year.' And I was literally going on three hours sleep, so I said 'Sure.'"

The smoke coming up from the fire log and out of the Byers' chimney was barely visible, but a neighbor on her morning walk noticed.

"Just a little bit," said Mary Ann Moreno. "And that doesn't bother me, but the woods do. The woods are just really, really strong and harsh."

The Valley Air Pollution Control District makes the rules and they say smoke from wood in fireplaces and stoves is their worst enemy in the winter, leaving a haze over the entire Valley and making many people sick.

That's why they issued the burn ban, and ran the risk of being called Grinches.

"I know it's Christmas," said spokesperson Jaime Holt, "but you can't use that wood-burning fireplace or wood-burning stove."

The district put a team of inspectors on standby, but they mainly rely on people turning in their neighbors, which many say they're less inclined to do on special days.

"On Christmas, probably not," said Moreno. "But on other days, I'd be likely to."

That means one extra gift for the Byers family -- a pass to bend the rules.

"I kind of understand it, but at the same time, I don't know," Jacob Byers said. "It's Christmas. Is one day going to really do anything?"

The last Christmas burn ban was just two years ago, in 2007.

Tickets for violations start at $50 and get higher for repeat offenders.

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