Wood Smoke Stories

Misery in Nevada

I live in Pahrump, Nevada, about 45 minutes from Las Vegas—this is where most casino workers go to retire, but every place I’ve lived up here, someone ends up burning—trash, wood, a burn barrel, fire pit, smoking meat, you name it!

I originally moved up here because I have terrible COPD, and also for my birds. I had several macaws and cockatoos, most of which were rescues, and it was legal for me to have them here.

The first place I lived up here the neighbor was smoking meat for 2–3 days straight, then when he wasn’t smoking meat, the people on the other side of me would burn yard waste/wood/trash in a big open barrel—I was getting it from both sides. I ended up getting so sick! Constant anti-inflammatory and steroid shots, pills, inhalers, nebulizer machine, visits to the hospital, etc. It got to where the doctors were telling me they “didn’t know what to do for me,” and all my landlord would say is that “they have every right to burn!”

So, I ended up moving farther out, about 10 miles, and lo and behold, over time, I got better! So I’m at my new place for about 3 years, and my grandson and I loved it there. We would sit outside and enjoy fresh air, the beautiful sunsets from Death Valley National Park, the wildlife, etc.

Then, don’t you know, a neighbor girl Pat came to me one day and said “I got section 8 housing, but I can’t find a place, and wouldn’t it be neat if YOU moved and I could get this place right next to my Dad?” I said “Yes, but I love it here, I’m not going to move.” Then the worst started—they started burning trash, day and night, plastic, things with glitter, etc., etc.…(I know because the burnt glitter would get all over my vehicle).

It was when the Covid outbreak first started, so we were inside a lot, quarantining and all, and the smoke was so bad! I tried air purifiers, I taped up my stovetop exhaust vent/fan, I duct taped up all my windows, and also kept putting up more and more comforters/blankets on the windows (there were a lot of windows) —to where I had 3–4" thick blankets over all of the windows, and STILL it wasn’t even comfortable to sit and eat dinner or watch a T.V. show with my grandson! It’s all I could taste, was that nasty, putrid, garbage smoke. It made me have terrible jitters, heart racing, loss of concentration, and even made my lips and tongue numb.

My grandson and I would have to leave to go sit in a parking lot somewhere for a couple hours just to get some fresh air! Then it started on my pets. A wild, outside cat that I had been feeding for a couple of years, was coughing really bad—would act hungry, run to the food, but not really eat anything. I was going to try to catch him to get him to a vet, but after a week or so I found the poor cat (Shadow I called him), deceased, right by my front door. Then my inside cat, same thing—would act hungry, run to the food bowl, but not really eat. I took him to the vet because he started coughing terribly—it was $400.00! The vet said “keep your pets inside until you can figure this smoke problem out!”

Also my dog, same thing, coughing, couldn’t eat (like sore throat). I ended up losing a few small birds, too, two lovebirds and a keet—and I almost never have birds die on me.

I started driving around, trying to find out who was burning, to ask nicely if they would please stop, or move their burn barrel to the other side of their house or anything to help and for some relief! When I’d call the fire department, they would come and say “We don't smell anything” and act like I was crazy! The neighbor Pat, that first said that to me about my house was the first place I suspected. I would follow the wind direction on an app on my phone and it would bring me straight to their house next door! Then a friend told me too, that “If I smelled it that strong it must be right there by my house, very close, like right there.” I went and asked Pat’s family, the girl who originally wanted my place—it was a huge biker family. I usually get along well with bikers—as a whole they are genuine, good people—but not these ones. They lied and kept saying “It's not us!”

I started looking for another place but Corona virus was rampant, so there was nothing available. I had to start rehoming birds because I was afraid the smoke would kill them, too! Also I didn’t know where I was going to go with all of those macaws (my babies). It was soo hard—most of these birds I’d had for 15 YEARS! I still can’t hardly even think about it without wanting to cry—I miss them so much. I also took a huge loss on their value—I had to give some away and sell them cheap before they got sick from the smoke. Some are not doing well, either, without “mom.” Some of the new owners don’t even let me know how they’re doing.

Anyhow, I ended up getting desperate for a new place and ended up renting a business—an old church that couldn’t get any people because of Covid. Meanwhile, I kept calling the fire department. They got more and more mad at me, and refused to help me. They’d say “Oh, you again?!, We’re not helping you anymore!” It was such a nightmare!

Three days in a row I followed the wind direction to those same bikers’ house (the girl’s family) and it wasn't easy (basically calling them liars). “It’s not us!” they still kept saying. I would ask other neighbors if they smelled smoke and they’d say "All night, every night!, Chokes my wife right up!" And these were people a half mile away! But no one ever knew who, or wouldn’t admit who, or was too afraid to say anything.

The last time I called the fire department right before I moved they were threatening to cite me for calling too much! I honestly would not do that—call the fire department unnecessarily. I am not that type—even who I thought were my friends were calling me crazy and acting like I was crazy! They would take a step back if I started talking about “the smoke.” It really made me realize who my true friends were! When I finally moved, my old landlord called me to give back my deposit, and guess what he said?! He said “You were right! As soon as you left yesterday ‘Pat’ came over and offered me her section 8 voucher, plus $300 a month, and said it was them burning!” She ended up not getting the house , though. He had already sold it to someone else. So I moved to this old church, a business, a place where I’m not even supposed to be living, a place I can barely afford.

I’ve been here almost two years—and now I’m going through it again. Recently someone started burning green wood (not cured). It comes in the back wall of my new place, and is smoking me out day and night. I nicely asked the only neighbor with a fireplace chimney and right off the bat he got on the defensive “I don't have a fireplace!” Yelling at me for even saying anything! What, does he think I’m stupid?! Clouds of smoke coming from his place! My grandson has been sick for 10 days with same as before—sore throat/sinus burning/cough. And me too—I can tell right when it’s lit because my throat closes up, sinuses start burning, etc.

I just don’t understand these “hobby burners”—I mean find something else to do, ya know? Paint a picture, go for a jog, etc. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have one macaw left out of all those birds! And what about my rights?! Do I even have any?!

To me there’s a difference between having permits to burn and making your neighbors suffer! I have no money to move, no place to move, everything I own smells like a campfire, and now some of the neighbors (that can’t smell it) are starting the same thing: “I don't smell anything" and "It's not that bad out here." I’ve heard it all. People don’t realize, either, that I can’t crack a window, because the smoke gets sucked right in! Neighbors are acting like I’m crazy or stupid? Must be that they had an easy life, or didn’t have to work double shifts in casinos to support their children.

Best of luck with all of your smoke problems, and please pray for me because this is like 10 years of being smoked out. I’m all my grandson has, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.