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Davis

Davis, California

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Column: Burning up

I have a confession to make.

On Christmas Day I became a criminal and a renegade. What was the heinous crime that I committed? I burned wood … in a fireplace. I did this knowing full well that Christmas had been declared a “No Burn Day” in my district. Yes, I know that my crime may shock your conscience, but I just had to get that terrible weight off my chest.

Had I been caught burning wood in my fireplace, I would have been forced to pay a hefty fine. At the time, however, I didn’t realize how severe a threat wood-burning is for all of humanity.

On Christmas Day the Sacramento Bee ran a story about a ban on wood burning which claimed that my wood burning causes asthma, heart attacks and decreases the IQs of children. That is pretty hard to believe. If wood burning in a fireplace is so bad, then the large wildfires that occurred during the summer must have been a great deal worse. I would imagine that a lot more wood is burned in a single forest fire then in all fireplaces on any given “No Burn Day.” Apparently after hundreds of thousands of years of wood burning, humanity has just narrowly avoided mass extinction from poor health and general stupidity.

The laws against fireplace burning will accomplish very little. Having restrictions placed on one of the few days of the year that people really want to enjoy a fire is silly and futile. Most people paid no attention to the restrictions and just burned anyway.

I’m sure the air is smokier on days that people burn more, and this smoke might bother people. If you live anywhere near other people you should know that offensive odors are a part of life. If the behavior of a neighbor bothers you then why not simply knock on their door and tell them your grievance? If a city really wants to eliminate wood burning, then it should let the people vote for the laws that they want or don’t want.

There is a legitimate argument that fireplaces are inefficient and that heaters will actually heat a house better. It’s probably true that fireplaces are a thing of the past, but does that make government regulations necessary? Most people use heaters to warm their houses anyway, the number of people burning wood drops simply out of practicality. There is no danger that there will be a sudden rush to buy wood burning stoves. Modern technology makes it increasingly easy to warm a home in an efficient and clean way. Most fireplaces remain empty and unused for most of the year.

People should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not they want to burn and on what day they want to burn. If the argument against burning is strong enough then people will simply decide not to do it. Individuals should be able to choose whether or not they will have a fire.

There shouldn’t be punishments for people who have difficulty paying for energy to heat their home. Utility bills add up quickly, and many people who own older homes would have to pay a great deal of money to modernize. If the regulations are enforced then some people may just have to accept being cold on Christmas.

Clearly, placing the restriction on Christmas shows a lack of regard for common sense. This will not accomplish anything besides making people angry and maybe getting some money from fines. The people who wanted to burn will burn, and the people who didn’t want to burn won’t.

Having a “No Burn Day” on Christmas Day only enhances the perception that our government is cold, uncaring and disconnected from its constituents. People want fires because they warm them up, give them comfort and make them feel happy. Those kinds of things are more important than studies that proclaim vague and suspect health risks. An advisory telling people that burning wood on certain days is enough and is quite reasonable. Making it a punishable offence is unnecessary.

I just want to keep the government out of my living room.

JARRETT STEPMAN likes fire, and he knows that you do too. You can contact him at jstepman@ucdavis.edu.

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