MONTREAL - Throwing a log on an open fire could be a thing of the past if the provincial government has its way.

The provincial government is trying to dampen Montrealers' enthusiasm for wood burning stoves and fireplaces.

On Monday it launched a new program, overseen by the non-governmental agency Equiterre, to replace or remove polluting appliances across the island.

Sustainable Development Minister Pierre Arcand says Quebec hopes 4,000 Montrealers will take part.

"We do our part. It's a $6 million investment on the part of the ministry," said Arcand.

The program, called "Feu-Vert" will try to convince people who use stoves for heating to replace them with newer, more environmentally-friendly wood stoves or gas-burning fireplaces.

The province says the ultimate goal is to improve air quality in and around Montreal, and cited figures showing a traditional wood fireplace spews as many fine particle pollutants into the air in nine hours as a car will in an entire year.

Those fine particles are responsible for smog, especially in winter, when Montreal has in recent years seen a growing number of days with bad air quality.

They also make it very difficult to breathe for people who already have lung conditions.

In the spring of 2009 the city of Montreal passed a bylaw banning the installation of fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.

That law was promptly challenged by an association of manufacturers and several homeowners, who argue the city should allow high-efficiency wood burning stoves.

That case is currently before the courts.

Provincial law, along with many suburban cities, say any new stoves should comply with emission standards written by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So before ripping out an old stove or getting rid of a fireplace, homeowners should contact Equiterre to determine what they will be allowed to put in its place -- and if they are eligible for a subsidy that ranges from $300 to $900.

"They can check on the website, and then they call us and we'll make sure everything is okay so they can go and shop for their new stove," said Isabelle St-Germain of Equiterre.

If the pilot project is well-received, the government will continue and expand it.

"In the years to come there will be more money that will be put by the government on this," said Arcand.