Christmas tradition threatened by the Valley's poor air quality

FRESNO, Calif.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has issued a no-burn day for several counties through Christmas Eve and it expects to expand it again Wednesday to include most of the Valley from Stockton to Bakersfield.

Meantime Valley Visitors are referring to their holiday in Fresno as a "Grey Christmas."

"Coming over the hill you could see a layer of haze over the whole area," said Reno resident Jeff Bohrman.

This as soot, dust and other airborne debris continues to hover over homes. The pollution prompted Valley Air District officials to declare the air quality as "moderate" to "unhealthy for sensitive groups." It also sparked them to ban all burning in Fresno and Kern counties on Christmas Eve.

"Unfortunately the last couple of weeks have not been very beneficial to air quality here in the valley and looking into the Christmas holiday tomorrow, we're seeing more of the same," said Valley Air District Spokeswoman Jaime Holt.

Holt believes the biggest culprit is dry weather. According to the National Weather Service in Hanford, this month could be one of the top ten driest Decembers on record since 1881. Holt said weeks of little to no rainfall combined with wood-burning created the perfect storm for smog.

"We're still struggling, we still haven't had any rain, we still haven't had a big weather system that's cleaned us out, so at least for the next several days the air quality is going to be pretty poor," said Holt.

She's encouraging families to burn cleaner by making the switch to a gas or pellet stove and business owners like Tom Bludau of Agape Fireplaces and Grills in Clovis suggest taking advantage of a grant which could save you up to $1500 on a new device or insert.

"A lot of people are coming in with the voucher already approved, some have never heard of it so I let them fill it out and of course they're thrilled to get some help purchasing a unit," said Bludau.

The two page application is easy to fill out and by taking steps to protect our environment we can all breathe a little easier this winter.

"I know it's Christmas and we want to have that open hearth fireplace, we want to have that ambiance, but really for your own health and the health of your neighbors, find a fire on TV, put in a DVD or find a fake fireplace on your computer (or app) and put off actually burning a fire," said Holt.

Those who violate the no-burn orders could be fined $50 for the first offense and Holt said compliance inspectors will be out in neighborhoods on Christmas Day.

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