There's nothing wrong with having a backup plan. Tell that to the person who's trying to uproot their tires out of a foot of snow by backing up too hard. See, if you had a backup plan, you wouldn't be having a conversation with a stranger about insurance while we're both angry and uncomfortably freezing.

However, a peril that plagues Montanans from all four corners of the state during the winter is the dreaded power outage. For residents of the city and/or county of Missoula that are lucky enough to have a home outfitted with a trusty fireplace, it seems like no big deal; load that bad boy up with split logs and kindling and you can stay warm until the power comes back on. Not all modern problems require modern solutions, right?

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However, Missoula County regulates air pollution coming from wood burning stoves, saying,

"The main source of winter air pollution comes from residential woodstoves and fireplaces."


Only clean-burning stoves have been allowed to be installed in most parts of the county since 2010 (source) and all installations must be EPA-certified. That all stems from the efforts to clean up Missoula's infamous air, which became intolerable by the 1980s during the cold air inversions during the winter, right when people would burn wood.

However, climate change aside, winters are still cold, especially without power. This begs the question: for Missoula residents inside the Air Stagnation Zone, can they legally use their fireplaces and stoves to stay warm if the power goes out?

The Answer

Technically, the Missoula City-County Air Pollution Control Program has laid out the laws which govern "solid fuel burning devices" (which include fireplaces) in Chapter 9 of county public health code. Rule 9.201 states:

(1) After July 1, 1986, a person may not install or use any new solid fuel burning device in any structure within the Air Stagnation Zone without an Installation permit.

(2) After May 14, 2010 a person may not install or use a new solid fuel burning device in any structure within Missoula County without an installation permit.

However, in the event of a power outage that leaves a fireplace as your only source of life-saving heat, County Commissioner Josh Slotnick has what seems like the most reasonable and most human answer:

I feel really confident that if the power is out no one is going to issue any orders of violation or anything like that. There's human beings who work at the city and the county...we all live in the same place together, and I believe our allegiance is to each other more so than to rules especially when something horrible happens like the power goes out.

If the power goes out the folks at the Health Department are going to have much bigger fish to fry than trying to catch somebody who is using a woodstove to keep themselves alive. That would be silly.

I'm not suggesting you go out of your way to break the law, however I will say that if my power goes out, lighting up my firewood in my fireplace to stay warm is on the table and I wouldn't think twice about it. Stay warm, my friend.

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