Remember how on the Friday of the heatwave there was noxious black smoke pouring out of the chimney at the Russian Consulate in Pacific Heights, not coincidentally a day ahead of a US-imposed closure of the facility? A rep for the consulate told the SF Fire Department they were simply burning "unknown items" in the fireplace, no big whoop. But this was a Spare the Air Day, and now the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued the Notice of Violation to the consulate for "burning inappropriate materials," as the Mercury News reports, and the Russians are having none of it.
We hear via the Russian news agency TASS, per the SF Chronicle, that Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, called the citation "another Russophobic stunt," and she said "An anti-Russian performance in the United States is taking place."
"The show running at the moment is called Russians Poison San-Francisco. Why?" asked Zakharova sarcastically. She reportedly took issue with the air district for failing to mention the sum of the fine. "One of the reasons behind it is to excuse the barbaric actions by US secret services on the premises of the Russian consulate general," she said.
A BAAQMD spokesperson, Lisa Fasano, told the Mercury News that there was no specific fine attached to the notice, and "both entities will reach a settlement on the proper punishment."
The violation was not specific to Spare the Air Days and would have been issued on any day, Fasano explains. The rule broken, Regulation 6-3-309, pertains to the burning of garbage or "any material not intended by a manufacturer for use as a fuel in a wood-burning device."
The smoke billowing out of the consulate's chimney made national headlines on September 1, amid 106-degree temperatures in San Francisco, and one day after the Trump Administration had given the Russians 48 hours to vacate and shutter the consulate. The SF consulate, the largest and oldest of Russia's outposts in the US, was one of four ordered closed in retaliation for the closure of some American facilities on Russian soil. This was seen by some as an escalation of diplomatic tensions that began with revelations about Russian meddling in the November election, after which President Obama ordered several dozen Russian intelligence agents out of the country, at least a few of whom were based at the SF consulate.
As part of the recent order from the State Department, an inspection of the consulate by federal agents was promised on September 2, as soon as the Russians vacated.
Investigators with the BAAQMD spoke with the fire department and reviewed photographs, and as Fasano says, "With such black smoke it was clear something other than wood was being burned, and that usually means garbage."