The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is offering residents a tool that will provide instantaneous updates on the wood burning status this winter.

The “Check Before You Burn” widget will notify residents anytime air pollution is forecast to reach unhealthy levels from now until Feb. 28, 2010.

During a Winter Spare the Air alert, the widget will remind residents that the use of wood-burning devices, including fireplaces, pellet stoves, wood stoves and outdoor fire pits is illegal.

“In the winter time wood smoke is the largest sort of particulate solution,” spokeswoman Kristine Roselius said, explaining that the tiny particles are a serious health threat to children, the elderly and people with heart or lung problems.

First time violators receive a warning letter, Roselius said. A second violation will cost a hefty $400 and subsequent violations depend on the severity of the infraction.

This year marks the second winter season of the wood burning rule and the widget. Last year, air quality inspectors delivered 254 warning letters to violators and one ticket.

Thus far around 500 people have downloaded the widget, Roselius said.

The code for embedding the widget within any Web page can be found at

Residents can alternately sign up for phone alerts by calling (800) 430-1515 or (877) 4-NO-BURN for more information.

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