The smell and smoke from fire has been unmistakable the past few days, wafting south from the Emerald Road area-even as Yakima County has issued a burn ban.
To a large extent it is a controlled burn by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to the Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority.
County and state laws are generally not applicable to tribal people on tribal lands. That includes burn bans, noted Bob West, an enforcement officer with the Clean Air Authority.
Part of the issue also involves those not affiliated with tribes who live or work in tribal areas. "We need to get the message out that they are not exempt from state and county laws," said West.
But residents of Yakima County can breathe a sigh of relief-and cleaner air-thanks to the first-ever federally imposed burn ban on tribal lands on Wednesday.
Under guidelines of the rule, tribes have agreed to abide by burn bans issued by the federal government in the form of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Wednesday's EPA burn ban was issued shortly after Yakima County's.
"It's a positive step forward," said Les Ornelas, air pollution control officer for the Clean Air Authority. With the system up and running, Ornelas said he hopes EPA will issue a burn ban for tribal lands in conjunction with Yakima County's burn bans.
Ornelas said the federal agency is trying to educate various tribes on burning they can and cannot do. As with burn bans for the rest of the county, the tribes cannot burn outdoors once a burn ban is issued by EPA.
Uncertified wood stoves, however, can be used during a burn ban by the tribes during a burn ban but not in the rest of the county. "They'll be urged not to use the stoves," Ornelas said of tribal air rule guidelines. "But they are allowed during burn bans."
Ornelas said his staff is "extremely pleased" with progress on federally-issued burn bans issued for tribal lands.
"The tribe has shut down all burning they were doing as of yesterday (Nov. 16)," said Anne Dalrymple, of EPA's Seattle office. "It has agreed to not do any more burning until it is lifted."
Dalrymple and EPA meteorologist Bill Puckett said an anticipated inversion system will result in more tribal burn bans called today, Nov. 17, for lands elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
"We're striving for consistency," said Dalrymple. "If there's a burn ban out there it should apply to everyone."
As with the Clean Air Authority, EPA has a complaint hotline for outdoor burning. Clean Air can be reached at 1-800-540-6950 and EPA's hotline on tribal burning is 1-800-424-4EPA.
Dalrymple said callers should ask for the FARR hotline (Federal Air Rules for Reservations).
"It helps us to hear from people on air quality and the effects from tribal outdoor burning," she said. EPA has an official based in the Yakima Valley who will respond to complaints, Dalrymple added.
The cooperation between EPA, the county and the tribes is healthy for everyone, noted Ornelas.
"We live in a big salad bowl and when it gets filled it doesn't matter what part you're in," Ornelas said of the Yakima Valley. "What happens on one side of the bowl impacts the other. We need greater cooperation and respect for each other."