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Fireplaces and wood stoves may be off limits during much of the winter in Salt Lake County.
County health board members voted Thursday to toughen wood-burning restrictions, expanding the number of days residents will not be allowed to stoke fires to include times when air quality is getting worse so-called "yellow" burn days.
Last winter, Utah's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) declared 31 mandatory no-burn days and 18 voluntary no-burn days nearly 50 days when Salt Lake County residents no longer would be able to build a fire.
"We want to be prepared to do what we can to protect air quality," said county health department spokesman Nicholas Rupp.
The changes take effect immediately, but the health department will not enforce the ban on burning until Jan. 1, 2016.
But Salt Lake County residents who burn this week and during other "mandatory" no-ban periods this winter still could face a citation costing them up to $299, Rupp cautioned.
State officials believe wood smoke adds to Wasatch Front particulate pollution that clogs the wintertime air during periodic weather inversions. DEQ already bans wood burning in Utah's urban core when forecasts indicate levels of fine particulate pollution, or PM 2.5, will reach unhealthy levels. State air quality watchdogs have proposed a winter-long ban on burning.
Public hearings are scheduled in each of the seven counties affected by the proposed ban, starting Wednesday in Tooele and Thursday in Salt Lake City.
The state's ban would render Salt Lake County's new rule moot.
While public health and environmental advocates and the Salt Lake City Council cheered the burn restrictions, others complained they infringe on citizens' ability to tap a low-cost, carbon-neutral, renewable energy source.
Some commenters said the rules do little to clear the air and open the door for greater government intrusion, comparing them to Gestapo tactics in Nazi Germany.
"No one should have the right to determine how we provide a safe and comfortable home for our family or force us to pay more for services than we choose to by obligating us to the gas company," Scott and Amy Christofferson wrote in comments submitted to DEQ. "And absolutely, we should not be forced to allow someone to invade the privacy of our homes with inspections."
The state's proposed burn ban would apply Nov. 1 through March 1.
Using previous winters as a gauge, the new Salt Lake County rule would mean no burning for about half that 120-day period and would likely double the number of days people cannot burn. In 2013, which was Utah's worst year for inversions in a decade, DEQ called for mandatory action on 43 days in Salt Lake County and voluntary action on 46 days.
The burn rules also apply to pellet-burning devices, coal, charcoal grills and backyard firepits.
The county's new restriction exempts homes that rely solely on wood or other solid fuels for heat. It also exempts mountain communities at the tops of Little and Big Cottonwood canyons because fires above 7,000 feet in elevation do not contribute to the inversion-trapped pollution in the valley.