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Con: Public notification, regulation top concerns

By Jessica Priest
March 31, 2013 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 31, 2013 at 11:01 p.m.


Rebecca Millspaw coughed up black soot for days after a rancher set fire to fields near Port O'Connor, a 10-minute drive from her house.

The 30-year-old homemaker remembers keeping her inhaler nearby as ominous black smoke descended upon her Seadrift neighborhood two weeks ago. That day, she helped her mother recover from a chemotherapy treatment and assembled a dog kennel.

"Thankfully, it didn't throw me into a major asthma attack," Millspaw said.

She thinks authorities ought to spread the word next time this happens and thought she was the only one with that opinion - until she logged onto her Facebook.

"I did not know that there were other people out there who were saying, 'Hey, this is not fair,'" Millspaw said.

She said assigning certain days of the month as the only day county residents could light their brush on fire would solve this problem.

"Then, I would know. I could look out for it and maybe not go anywhere on those days," said Millspaw, who is related to a firefighter.

She thinks it is only fair, especially because Seadrift residents face strict regulations when they want to rid their household of waste.

"We have to go to city hall and have somebody from the fire department come down even if it's in a 55-gallon drum," Millspaw said. "Why can they burn whenever, and we have to go through all this rigmarole mess just to burn a pile of trash?"

Brigette Dupnik, 32, who lives in North Victoria, had another suggestion.

She wants people to collect their brush and bring it to a safe, central area, although where that may be she didn't know.

Dubbing it the "community burn spot," she said people who use the space would pay a small price for endangering the lives of schoolchildren, trees, wildlife and homes nearby.

Darryl Lesak, Victoria's director of environmental services, said although different species of brush can release chemicals into the air, the city of Victoria doesn't have much of a carbon footprint(http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm).

His department runs Garden-Ville, a brush dropoff site on Farm-to-Market Road 1686 in Bloomington. He said the sticks don't burn there but rather undergo a six-month-long grinding process where they are layered with biosolids from the wastewater treatment plant.

He said landscapers often take advantage of the service, and it could be a good alternative for farmers and ranchers, too.

"It comes out as this really beautiful, black compost that is very high in protein. It works great in plants. There is no smell and no danger," Lesak said.

He said it is better to recycle.

"Once you burn it (the brush), you may get a little bit of nitrogen out of the ash, but this (the compost) has nitrogen mixed with phosphorous and basically all the good things you need to put back in the soil," Lesak said.

One cubic foot bag of manure compost costs $3.99, according to Garden-Ville's website.

Smoke, dust and colored grass that are released into the air from agriculture burning are known as "fine particles," according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They're generally less than 2.5 micrometers in size and can be inhaled by the millions in a single breath.

Recent studies link exposure to this type of pollution to premature death, difficulty breathing and increased respiratory symptoms in the elderly and in children, according to the EPA's website.

Dupnik said she fears for her and her 1-year-old son's life, wondering if she should flee her house during a burn, especially after one went awry about a year and a half ago. Then, embers fell on the back of a new addition to a church on Mallette Street.

"You won't hear the birds anymore. You'll hear the cows mooing. You'll hear a bunch of frantic movements because they're terrified. It's awful," Dupnik said. "Yeah, they (the ranchers) do their best, but, once again, when you're on a property that's full of trees, you're best may not be good enough."

Pro: When done responsibly, fires help agricultural community grow

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