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Field burning off to slow start

Fri., Aug. 20, 2010

Acres to be torched reduced over years

A dramatically reduced level of field burning got started on the Rathdrum Prairie in North Idaho on Wednesday but was shut down when the smoke failed to rise above ground level, Idaho officials said Thursday.

At least 50 acres of bluegrass were burned before officials ordered the fires extinguished, said Ralph Paul, air shed coordinator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality in Coeur d’Alene.

“It didn’t get the lift,” he said. “You want to get the smoke above the ground.”

As a result, an air quality monitor on West Lancaster Road near the Coeur d’Alene Airport showed smoke pollution changing from a good reading to a high-moderate reading for about an hour on Wednesday before returning to the good range, Paul said.

Meyer Farms is the last on the Rathdrum Prairie burning its fields since a lawsuit stopped burning several years ago and led to the creation of more stringent regulations on agricultural burning on lands overseen by the state.

The company has three fields – two in bluegrass and one in wheat – that it has sought approval to burn over the next few weeks. They total about 500 acres.

Burning is believed to shock the grass plants to increase production the following year.

The field the company sought to burn Wednesday was not mature enough for efficient burning, Paul said. As a result, the next burn will be delayed until traces of green growth disappear from the field, he said.

The acreage in this year’s planned burns is down from about 6,000 acres annually burned in the past, Paul said.

Burning also is under way on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation south of Coeur d’Alene, he said, and that burning is regulated by tribal government.

A light haze of smoke was visible in the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane regions Thursday and is likely the residue of smoke from British Columbia fires that moved south into Western Washington earlier this week. The well-mixed smoke apparently was carried northeastward on a low-pressure system out of Oregon on Wednesday, he said.

Smoke from the same fires covered the Northwest in early August as well.

Air quality in Spokane on Thursday slipped into the moderate range as of 9 a.m. with fine particulates in the air, including smoke, but was in the good range by afternoon. Coeur d’Alene reported good air quality Thursday.

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