Fires are being set along Yuba-Sutter levees this summer to help hold back floodwaters this winter.
Between now and the end of July, levees in Yuba and Sutter counties will be burned to clear grass and meet state requirements for inspections. With the weeds out of the way, the levees can be checked for holes from rodents.
Burning is the only option to get rid of the growth on the levees because the sand they are mostly made of makes it impossible to mow, said Bill Hampton, general manager for Levee District No. 1, which maintains levees protecting Yuba City.
“They (mowers) would just slide right off,” he said.
When the weather warms up and the grass dries out, the burns begin. Green grass would put out too much smoke, Hampton said.
Levees near homes are priority No. 1 and Hampton hopes to have those done before July 4 when residents will have fireworks.
“If we don’t get it done, somebody’s going to set it on fire for us,” he said.
With the fire comes smoke that could make it hard to breathe. The Feather River Air Quality Management District monitors the air during levee burning.
“We work closely to do it under the best conditions,” said Jeff Citron, the district’s open burn coordinator.
Sometimes the air doesn’t create good burning conditions, like Monday. The controlled burn was called off for the day after the smoke began settling in Yuba City.
Even with these precautions, smoke is still in the air and people in sensitive groups need to be careful. Older people, young children and people with asthma should stay inside if they notice smoke in the area and try not to do heavy activities, according to Sondra Anderrson of the air quality district.
Levee burning will continue through the end of July. During that time, Hampton expects complaints about the smoke from people who are new to the area, but he said it’s a necessary evil.
“I think they’d rather breathe a little smoke for a few minutes now than drown later.”