Locations of upcoming field burns would no longer be state secrets in Idaho, under legislation introduced in a House committee this afternoon. “This was requested by our sheriff and our emergency services,” said Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, who’s sponsoring the bill along with Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “We’ve got some real public health and safety issues.”
Trail told the House Agriculture Committee that his local law enforcement and fire officials frequently get calls about fires, and spend hours “running around the country” in his rural county looking for the fires, only to find they’re permitted agricultural field burns. The state Department of Agriculture refuses to disclose the time, date and location of upcoming field burns, citing a public records exemption that was enacted in 1992 – long before the department took on regulation of field-burning.
A family in Trail’s district returned from a camping trip last summer to find its property on fire from an out-of-control field burn next door – and the residents said they’d never have left town if they’d known of the upcoming burn.
Keough told the committee the law change would allow people to “take proper precautions” when they know a field will be burned, such as whisking asthmatic children out of the area. The committee agreed to introduce the bill, though Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, voted no.
Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.
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