Mogan Ridge fire blankets some areas in dense smoke

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By Vince Luecke

Forest Service fields complaints, cites lack of wind for problems

LEOPOLD - Dense smoke from prescribed Forest Service burning in the Mogan Ridge area blanketed areas of the county in dense smoke Tuesday and Wednesday, sending several Perry Central students to the nurse's station and postponing the start of classes Thursday.

Hoosier National Forest officials apologized for the problem, which they said occurred when breezes forecast for Tuesday evening and night failed to materialize, preventing smoke from dispersing.

"It was an unpleasant surprise and we'll try our very best to do better," Fire Management Officer Mike Davis said Thursday afternoon.

Crews burned approximately 1,000 acres both days as part of the Forest Service's practice of burning undergrowth in certain areas of the Hoosier National.

The fire, similar to those in the past, sent a plume of smoke high into the sky Election Day, visible as far away as Tell City to the south and Dale to the west.

The actual burning went well Tuesday but the lack of wind during the overnight hours allowed smoke to settle, Davis said.

Wind conditions, temperature and humidity are all factors in deciding when to undertake prescribed burns.

Burning continued Wednesday on the rest of the approximate 1,000 acres. The lack of a breeze meant for super-smoky conditions for much of Wednesday, enough to impact students at Perry Central Community School.

Physical-education classes were kept indoors and students were told to stay inside during recesses. School officials adjusted ventilation systems to stop the intake of outside air into the building. Some students were still affected, Superintendent Mary Roberson said.

Several visited the nurses office complaining of breathing problems.

School officials also called parents of students with asthma and decided to postpone the start of Thursday's classes for two hours. Forest Service employees contacted the school and expressed regret about problems the burning caused, Roberson said.

"They didn't anticipate the problems from the smoke settling in and they were very apologetic," Roberson said. "They told us they'll try to do things differently in the future."

Forest Service officials notified Perry Central about the burn, as well as fire departments and placed "Caution, Smoke Ahead" signs in several locations.

Davis said Forest Service employees plan carefully before undertaking prescribed burns and discuss the problems during a follow-up assessment held after each prescribed burn.

New District Ranger Anne Carey, who said her office had received calls of concern from several people in the affected area, said she regretted the problems the smoke caused. She began her duties in late September and will be the subject of a News story Thursday.

If conditions allow, the Forest Service plans to burn several hundred more acres in the Mogan Ridge area this fall, but probably not until after the two week firearms hunting season for deer.