Blowing dirt from freshly plowed fields severely reduced visibility on I-84

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

BURLEY, Idaho -- Idaho police are investigating an 18-vehicle pileup on Interstate 84 that was caused by strong winds kicking up dust from nearby farms.

According to Idaho State Police Lt. Kevin Haight, the April 11 accident north of Burley in southcentral Idaho was caused by dust that was blowing across freshly plowed fields being prepared for planting.

No life-threatening injuries were sustained during the accident, which occurred at 5 p.m. near Kasota Road and resulted in the eastbound lanes of I-84 being closed for more than four hours. Several motorists with minor injuries were transported to nearby hospitals.

Haight said visibility was severely reduced by the blowing dust and the investigation into the incident is still ongoing.

"It's a big mess and we're still trying to sort out who did what," Haight said.

If any citations are issued, he added, they would be to motorists for driving too fast for the conditions or inattentive driving.

"If there are any citations, it would be to drivers. It wouldn't be to any of the owners of the land," he said. "There's nothing that a farmer could do differently. They certainly can't help it when the wind gets whipped up."

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation spokesman John Thompson said he seriously doubts farmers can be held liable for such actions in civil court.

"To me, it's not the fault of the (farmer). It's the fault of the storm," he said. "I don't think there is any liability on the part of the farmers."

Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Nathan Jerke said the circumstances surrounding the incident were unusual.

The interstate runs east-west and the dust that day was caused by strong winds blowing north, he said. That part of the interstate isn't known for having visibility problems caused by blowing dust and any strong winds in that area are usually blowing west to east, he added.

There are no warning signs about blowing dust or snow on that stretch of I-84 for that reason.

"When and where it happened was just kind of unique and it just happened to occur when we had freshly plowed fields near the interstate that have experienced drier conditions this year," Jerke said. "It was a pretty unique set of circumstances."

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