Errant smoke foils field burning
Had the weather cooperated, the Rathdrum Prairie field-burning season might have been over in one day.
But authorities with the Idaho Department of Agriculture stopped the burning Tuesday when the smoke from one field started to hug the ground, according to state officials.
Farmers had planned to burn 1,800 acres Tuesday – the first day for burning on the Rathdrum Prairie this season. Instead, they burned 900.
“Three fields performed well under the weather conditions – good plume rise and smoke dispersion,” said Dan Redline of the state Department of Environmental Quality, which monitors air quality during the burning. “One field didn’t do well and put a lot of smoke at the ground level and ended up having smoke impacts downwind.”
Rathdrum, Garwood, Careywood, Athol and Sagle all received some of the smoke carried by winds near the ground, he said.
Burning will not continue today because of expected adverse weather conditions, but the remaining 900 acres of stubble registered for burning on the Rathdrum Prairie could be burned next week, said Wayne Hoffman, Department of Agriculture spokesman.
That’s down from nearly 13,000 acres burned in 1989 on the prairie. Health-related lawsuits, the high cost of insurance and development pressures have all contributed to a steady decline in the number of acres burned on the prairie.
Grass seed farmers burn their fields to clear stubble, control weeds, rejuvenate the plants and prepare the fields for the next growing season.
“You want to do it when conditions will allow you to send a plume of smoke straight up into the air, and then catch the transport winds to take it up, over and out,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said he didn’t know how many complaints the agency had received on its complaint hotline, but Redline said he heard it was about 50.
Meanwhile, another couple hundred of acres of stubble were burned on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, where 2,000 acres are scheduled to be burned.
Patti Gora of Safe Air For Everyone, a grass-burning opposition group started by Sandpoint doctors, said she was concerned when she learned that all 1,800 acres could be burned Tuesday.
She noted that the prairie is much more densely populated now than in years past.
“Before it went north and hit all those communities,” she said. “Now it’s more dangerous because they’re basically doing it in the middle of a subdivision.”
One plume of white, gray, yellow and brown smoke billowed into the sky just west of the Coeur d’Alene Airport, and Gora said witnesses reported a plane had to land through the plume.
But airport manager Greg Delavan said the smoke didn’t interfere with visibility at the airport and didn’t interrupt any flights.
“We had good visibility all afternoon,” he said. The airport did issue an advisory, however, warning pilots of the possibility of heavy smoke in the area.
Near the corner of Hayden Avenue and Chase Road, a blackened field Tuesday sent up curls of smoke from the last bit of unburnt stubble.
Charlie Simpson lives along Hayden Avenue, in the direct path of the smoke. He and his wife care for two elderly women who rely on oxygen tanks to breathe. A sign that reads, “Oxygen in use, no smoking” is posted in the window by the front door.
But Simpson considers the farmers good neighbors.
“They came by this morning and said ‘We’re burning today,’ ” he said. “We closed the windows and turned on the air conditioner. It’s not a problem.”