Neighbors complain about smoke from intentional fire

EUGENE, Ore. - Neta Prefontaine and her upstairs neighbor Vivien Hernandez are having difficulty breathing.

They live in the Redwood Park Apartments in west Eugene, just across the street from a controlled burn that took place on protected grasslands on Wednesday.

Hernandez has emphysema and said the smoke aggravated her condition.

"Like something really heavy on your chest, and you just can't breath," she said.

Prefontaine has severe asthma and said she can't take the smoke either.

"If you've ever put a pillow on your face and tried to breath, that's how I feel," said Prefontaine. Her late brother Steve Prefontaine took a stand against agricultural field burning after the smoke caused him to cough up blood after a race at Hayward Field.

The two women understand the fire was controlled - but said they don't think it was justified.

"For a little plant, they put people in danger," Hernandez said.

Land managers said the 15-acre chunk of grasslands needed to be burned to be preserved.

"Prairies need fire in order to thrive," said Matt Benotsch from the Nature Conservancy, "and as for prairies, we only have one-tenth of one percent which was in the Willamette Valley, and that means that most of the species that rely on this habitat are rare or are threatened."

Benotsch said the Nature Conservancy set the blaze in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management in Eugene. Michael Mascari with BLM said the agency and the City of Eugene did everything they could to minimize risks for the neighbors.   

"Unfortunately, it will always be inconvenient for some folks," Mascari said, "especially when you live in an area with a large urban interface like we do."