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As winter bites, ministry warns about dangers of wood-burning fires

Curling up in front of a toasty open fire may sound romantic, but the Environment Ministry notes it is bad for both health and the environment

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative: A fire burns in a stone fireplace (Carol A Hudson; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A fire burns in a stone fireplace (Carol A Hudson; iStock by Getty Images)

Feel like shutting out the winter and curling up in front of an open fire? Think again.

The Environmental Protection Ministry warns that this can be dangerous both from an environmental and a health point of view.

On Wednesday, the ministry launched an awareness-raising campaign, with minister Gila Gamliel warning that “exposure to air pollution from burning wood can harm those outside the home but also those inside,” posing a particular danger to pregnant women, infants, people with cardiac and lung problems, and those aged 65 and over.

The ministry said open fires are the dirtiest forms of heating, because they release pollutants such as particulate matter, mercury and carbon monoxide. Next come closed wood burners, especially those that do not meet the required standards. These, the ministry said, are particularly harmful if not sealed properly or whenever the door is opened. After wood fires come solid fuel fireplaces, wood pellet fireplaces, and gas-fired heaters. The preferred heating method, from an environmental point of view, uses electricity, according to the ministry. This includes combined heating-air conditioning systems and heat pumps.

A closed wood pellet stove. (Hustvedt, Wikimedia, CC BY-SA.30)

Among the do’s and don’ts published on the ministry’s website (in English) are a recommendation for those who do burn wood to have their systems regularly cleaned, to use them for as brief a time as possible, to not add wood unnecessarily, to not use logs with a diameter of more than 15 centimeters (six inches), and to never leave fireplaces or wood burning stoves in “sleep” mode overnight. Leaving a low flame without adding new wood and then shutting windows or vents to avoid having to light a new fire the next day results in poor combustion and more smoke.

Recommending the use of dry wood pellets or wood bricks over logs, the ministry warned people not to burn processed wood such as from old furniture, panels or fence boards and never to burn wood that is damp.

The ministry has been encouraging local authorities to pass bylaws that determine which heating systems can be used as early as the planning stages of new residential homes.

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