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Chief's burning violation becomes public education effort


Electric City Volunteer Fire Chief Mark Payne will keep his job despite two incidents of illegal burning at his home.

Mayor Jerry Sands made the statement at a meeting Monday night of several local firefighters.

“I am not going to remove Payne as fire chief,” Sands said. Earlier in the day, he admitted that he was pondering doing that.

Instead, Sands said he was going to use the incidents as a public education effort to inform residents about the burning ban that covers all areas within the urban growth boundaries in cities and towns throughout the state.

“I made this decision when I realized how confused people are about burning,” Sands stated.

The Monday night meeting was hurriedly called so the decision to move forward could appear in this week’s Star newspaper.

Payne, a 17-year veteran of Electric City’s volunteer fire department, was named to the chief position only last year.

Payne’s fire burning woes began Jan. 6, when city hall received complaints about his burning construction materials in a fire in his yard at 10 Electric Boulevard. He was called by a city official who told him to cease doing so.

Then again, on Jan. 18, complaints poured in to city hall and directly to the mayor who was in Nevada. It appeared that this was the beginning of the end for Payne, and this was acknowledged by the mayor upon his return.

Payne said Monday night that he had been doing “recreation” fires in his lawn area since October, and he thought his fires fell into that category.

A city official last week stated that the fire chief should be held to a higher standard that anyone else.

However, Monday night the mayor, and with the support of the firefighters present at the city hall meeting, was willing to accept Payne’s explanation for the fires.

Everyone the mayor had discussed the burning with seemed to understand the ban on fires differently.

State law permits recreational burning within an urban growth area as long as it is only 3 feet by 3 feet in size and no more than two feet high and only clean firewood, propane or charcoal type nuggets are used.

The police report filed Jan. 18, stated that Payne’s burn pile consisted of building materials and plastic and was substantially larger than what a recreation fire allows, that it was within 50 feet of a structure and that there was no way to put the fire out if it got out of control.

Grand Coulee Police Officer Joe Higgs’ report stated that when he arrived at the Payne residence he could see a fire burning in the front yard, sending up “an acrid black smoke that smelled of chemicals and burned the eye.”

Higgs could see treated lumber and building materials in a pile adjacent to the fire and some of the items within the fire.

“There was painted items, finished items, and some plastic items as well,” Higgs’ report stated. “The color of the smoke was akin to smoke put off when tires are burned, though not as thick.”

Higgs stated the burning of these materials is not allowed under the no burn ban, the size of the fire was too large, the fire too close to a structure, there was no ability to extinguish the fire and it was putting out a toxic odor/smoke.

In contacting Payne, Higgs’ report noted, the fire chief said he was unaware that construction material couldn’t be burned and did not notice that the fire was sending up an acrid smoke.

Mayor Sands said that people need to understand their is a burn ban in the city and that it is illegal to burn. He said if residents have any question they can call city hall, 633-1510.

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