Air district vows to address late notice on prescribed burn

Cal Fire is doing a control burn in Salinas that can be seen from the San Martin Avenue overpass in Gilroy.

In light of late notice given to the public for Tuesday’s controlled burn that blanketed the region with a smoky haze, an air pollution district official said the agency plans to work with Calfire to improve notification for residents.

Calfire’s prescribed burn on 1,000 acres in the Salinas Valley near Old Stage and Crazy Horse roads, about 20 miles from Hollister and Gilroy, left a far-reaching haze that gradually dissipated Wednesday.

Calfire on Tuesday morning first received final permission for the burn from the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District, according to officials with both agencies. Calfire sent out its initial warning to the public of the potential prescribed burn in a press release at about 8:30 p.m. Monday. It was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Tuesday and end at 5 p.m.

Calfire Unit Information Officer Eddy Moore said the state agency routinely must wait for approval from the air pollution district to move forward with such controlled burns.

Air Pollution Control Officer Richard Stedman acknowledged the agency and Calfire should improve communication to the public. He mentioned that Calfire officials had wanted to conduct the prescribed burn on vegetation in that area – meant to reduce its flammability – for about four years and were waiting for the appropriate weather conditions.

“We are going to be working with Calfire to make sure we get a better noticing system out next time,” Stedman said.

He also pointed out that a structure fire in Prunedale at about 3 p.m. Tuesday pulled away crews from the controlled burn – which Calfire temporarily shut down, amplifying the spread of smoke.

“Anytime you shut down a burn and suppress a fire, you’re going to get a lot of smoke, more smoke than you could imagine,” Stedman said.

Calfire crews after addressing the Prunedale blaze returned to the site of the prescribed burn and continued working into the night. With a lot of fog and a drop in humidity, the smoke settled in for the night and failed to cooperate with the air pollution district’s initial models for the burn, Stedman said.

The additional smoke surprised many residents unaware of Calfire’s plans for a prescribed burn. Santa Cruz 911 Interim General Manager Dennis Kidd could not be reached immediately to comment on the volume of 911 calls made regarding the Calfire burn.

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