Up in smoke

State: Prairie field burning left more surface smoke than hoped

SHAWN GUST/Press A horse pauses near a barn on Meyer Road Tuesday as workers with Meyer Farms burns crop fields in the distance.

RATHDRUM - Annual field burning on the Rathdrum Prairie got off to a smokey start on Tuesday afternoon, but state officials were confident evening winds would carry away lingering smoke.

About 220 acres of Kentucky bluegrass in the area of Lancaster and Huetter roads were burned, leaving 150 registered acres on the prairie to be burned.

"It didn't go as well as we had hoped," said Mark Boyle, air quality manager with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. "We had some surface smoke - something we try to avoid as much as possible. It leaves room for improvement."

However, Boyle was optimistic that the predicted evening winds would clear off any remaining smoke.

"A good scouring wind should ventilate it out," he said.

IDEQ manages the crop residue burning program throughout the state except for on Indian reservations. Growers must obtain IDEQ approval to burn. Burn days are limited to weekdays during daylight hours only.

Field burning increases yields for growers the following year, but the practice is criticized by some environmentalists and those with breathing difficulties.

Conditions must be dry and have transport winds before the state allows burning. The hope is that the smoke will rise and be carried out of the area with wind, causing minimal impacts on residents.

A resident who lives off Prairie Avenue was the first to complain about Tuesday's burn, Boyle said.

"He was disappointed that we were adding to the smoke in the sky already (from regional wildfires)," Boyle said. "I explained that conditions had improved and that evening winds were predicted and expected to help."

Boyle expected the state's complaint hotline to get more calls late in the day.

"They're probably justified with the smoke that we had on the ground," he said.

Boyle said it's unclear when the remaining acres on the prairie will be burned because it's a day-to-day decision based on the weather and other conditions.

"It's a tough thing to do because once you put the smoke in the air, you're counting on all the information you gathered to make the decision to come through," said Boyle, adding that much of the burn decisions are based on forecasts and experience.

Meanwhile, on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation, 96 acres were burned on Aug. 3. No burning has taken place since then because the weather has not cooperated and due to lingering regional wildfire smoke, said Heather Keen, tribal spokeswoman.

She said the Tribe's smoke management team tries to minimize the effects of field burning smoke on residents as much as possible.

The total acres to be burned this year won't be determined until harvest is done, she said. The acreage is different each year.

"The rain and weather throughout spring and early summer led to late crops and a late harvest," she said.

SHAWN GUST/Press Passersby Dan and Brittany Couillard cast shadows on Wyoming Avenue as they take pictures with their cell phones of Tuesday's field burning on the Rathdrum Prairie.


SHAWN GUST/Press A smoke plume dwarfs a mini van passing by on Wyoming Avenue.


SHAWN GUST/Press Farm crews set Kentucky bluegrass field stubble ablaze on the Rathdrum Prairire.

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