A blanket of smoke covering Griffith has sent 12 people to Griffith Base Hospital with breathing problems.
People in the area awoke on Wednesday morning to the smoke, which has sparked fierce debate on social media. Some residents complained of breathing problems and others said “get over it”.
On Tuesday night nine people went to Griffith Base Hospital with breathing problems and an additional three went on Wednesday morning.
Parents waking up to the smoke weighed up whether to send their children to school.
Tharbogang resident Eloise Caffrey said she was concerned when she smelt the smoke on Wednesday morning.
“Before I went to work I wasn't sure if I wanted to send send my son to school or not,” Ms Caffrey said.
It is believed smoke from agricultural burns on Tuesday night got trapped in an “inversion layer”, causing the area to wake up to heavy pollution.
An inversion layer occurs when still, cool air settles in low areas, typically during late afternoons and evenings. The layer is able to trap smoke in the air, leading to people being “smoked out”.
Some people were quick to blame farmers for the smoke but Andrew Bomm, executive director of the Ricegrowers' Association of Australia, said it was “very unlikely” it was a result of rice stubble burning.
“It’s too early in the harvest for rice farmers to be burning stubble,” Mr Bomm said. “Rice growers look for hot, dry burns in the middle of the day, more often in late April and May.”
Mr Bomm said he wasn’t happy Griffith was “smoked out”.
“Whoever’s burning is a fool, there’s no hurry to burn off,” he said. “Our view is smoking out Griffith is not acceptable and can be avoided, this is just a silly mistake. We’ve devoted a lot of effort to educating rice growers about how and when to burn off.”
Benerembah rice farmer Hayden Cudmore agreed with Mr Bomm, saying “burning off” let farmers make use of every last bit of water before winter crops were sown but farmers needed to be responsible and conscious of weather conditions.
“Burning off is a farm management practice, but you need to be conscious of where the smoke goes,” Mr Cudmore said.
Farmers should consult the Bureau of Meteorology website to check wind direction and the presence of inversion layers, Mr Bomm said.