Winds whipped several planned grass field fires out of control Monday, blanketing Coeur d’Alene in a heavy brown afternoon haze.
Firefighters from Worley and the state Department of Lands battled at least three fires that escaped farmers’ management on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation.
While none of the out-of-control blazes spread to more than a quarter of an acre, at least a half-dozen field fires smoldered into early evening.
The unusually thick smoke flowing over Kootenai County’s population center prompted more than 90 calls to burn-watch hotlines in five hours.
The tribe’s field-burning boss blamed a surprise shift in wind direction from the south and a single field burner who broke the rules.
The tribe shuts down all burning promptly at 3 p.m. but cut that back to 2 p.m. Monday after winds started carrying smoke across Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“I had one farmer who went back and burned two fields after that time,” said Alfred Nomee, director of land services for the tribe.
A meteorologist with the Intermountain Grass Growers Association had urged the tribe early Monday not to allow any burning that day, predicting wind conditions would bury Coeur d’Alene in smoke.
“We told them we didn’t think it was a good idea,” said Linda Clovis, association director. “But they (reservation farmers) are so far behind, I guess they felt they had to.”
Meanwhile, Rathdrum Prairie farmers burned about 900 acres Monday, apparently without incident.
Nomee argued that reservation farmers aren’t bound by schedules or association recommendations.
“Their meteorologist is in Rockford, Wash. - that’s Spokane County,” he said. Nomee’s forecasters, meanwhile, predicted winds would push the smoke east and south of Coeur d’Alene.
“When it got bad, we shut them down,” he said.
Nomee said he would file a legal complaint today against the rogue farmer. If he is found to have violated tribal rules, he could face fines.
Nomee said he does not know how many acres on the reservation were ignited Monday nor how many remain to be burned.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo