The only thing that's been more out of control than the number of Spare the Air days this season is the actual amount of nasty particulate matter floating about in all that cool wintry air we oxygen-dependent lifeforms are expected to breathe. So, perhaps it shouldn't come as any big surprise that a couple hundred of you air quality conscious Bay Areans ratted out your wood-burning neighbors over Christmas and Christmas Eve this year.

According to a post-holiday report from the Mercury News, over 400 people reported illegal holiday wood fires on the 24th and 25th this year — a violation that carries up to a $400 fine from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The Air Quality Cops, who go on chimney-spotting patrol in Toyota Priuses by the way, didn't issue any fines right away, but they're not cutting violators any slack because of the holiday. As a spokeswoman for the Air District told the Mercury News, "People don't get to take a break from breathing because it's a holiday."

And in case you've been wondering what happens if burning solid fuels is your only option for in-home heating: One Concord resident with a broken furnace was apparently in the clear after an air district employee told him he had an acceptable excuse. But not before three neighbors dropped by to admonish him for destroying the environment.

All told, the BAAQMD has gotten 2,200 reports of illegal wood burning on the 10 winter Spare the Air days we've had this season.