by LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Three residents on the south side of Colfax have complained to the village about backyard fires at a Fourth Avenue address.
The Colfax Village Board’s Public Safety Committee discussed the complaints with the property owner and the concerned neighbors May 4.
Tony and Brenda Dunn, residents at 506 Fourth Avenue, were the subjects of the complaints, and the residents who had complained about the backyard fires were Tina Bradford, Marian McDaniel and Michelle Van Vulpen.
Keith Burcham, village trustee, serves as the chair of the public safety committee. Village trustees Annie Schieber and Casey Rihn also serve on the committee.
Colfax Police Chief William Anderson explained that the police department has received four complaints about fires at 506 Fourth Avenue over the past two years.
The first complaint in May of 2014 was that a mattress was being burned in the backyard, Police Chief Anderson said.
By the time an officer reached the scene, the fire was out, although there were enough remnants of the fire to suggest that it was possible furniture had been burned, and the Dunns were informed that it was illegal to burn furniture, he said.
Van Vulpen said she became aware of what was allegedly a mattress being burned when she had her windows open and woke up from a sound sleep, choking on what she described as “toxic fumes.”
The next complaint was in July of 2014, again of furniture being burned, but when an officer arrived, all that was discovered was wood being burned, Police Chief Anderson said.
In June of 2015, complaints were received about the height of the flames, and Police Chief Anderson said he met with Brenda Dunn to discuss the parameters of the village’s ordinance.
The concerned neighbors alleged that the fire was as high as nearby trees.
According to the ordinance, the pile of material being burned can be no more than four feet wide and three feet high, although the ordinance does not discuss the height of flames.
On March 28 of this year, a complaint was called in about 506 Fourth Avenue to the police department at 5 p.m.
A Colfax police officer was not on duty at that time, so the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department was contacted, Police Chief Anderson said.
A Dunn County deputy checked the fire, and everything seemed fine. Later on, Rand Bates, director of public works received a telephone call, and Bates in turn called Don Logslett, Colfax fire chief. When Logslett went to the residence, he discovered wood was being burned, Police Chief Anderson said.
Colfax Police Officer Michael Madrid received a telephone call Monday morning about the fire. Officer Madrid contacted Logslett, who said he had gone to the residence. The next day, a Tuesday, Officer Madrid visited the Fourth Avenue residence but said he could not find any evidence of anything illicit having been burned, Police Chief Anderson said.
Logslett said he had talked to Tony Dunn and that he had found two two-by-fours being burned.
While in the backyard, Logslett said he had noticed a pile of painted wood and shingles and told Tony Dunn he could not burn painted wood and shingles, to which Dunn said he knew painted wood and shingles could not be burned.
The Colfax ordinance about open burning does not state any hours of operation, Logslett noted.
The village’s ordinance also requires a 50-foot setback for a bon fire and a 15-foot setback for any other fire burned in a pit or fire ring.
If there was proof of illicit burning, then a citation could be issued, but there has been no evidence of illicit burning, Police Chief Anderson said.
Van Vulpen said she could not understand how the fire chief could be authorized to approve the burning of illegal materials.
Logslett said he is not authorized to approve the burning of illegal materials and that he had not found any illegal materials being burned at the Fourth Avenue residence in question.
The letter of complaint received by the village mentioned using gasoline or a blow torch to light a fire, but Officer Madrid noted the ordinance does not prohibit the use of accelerants to start a fire.
Van Vulpen said she had observed gasoline or some other flammable liquid being poured on a fire, and that the fire had started to follow the stream back to the can.
Squirting gasoline on an open flame is an extremely dangerous thing to do, especially when children are present, she noted.
Burcham said in his opinion, it sounded as if the village’s open burning ordinance could use some clarification, and Police Chief Anderson said he agreed.
Logslett noted that as the fire chief, he is not authorized to write a citation.
If the fire chief found evidence of illegal burning, he could contact the police department to write a citation, Police Chief Anderson said.
Burcham also said it sounded as if there were a lack of communication among the parties involved as well as a lack of knowledge about the village’s ordinances.
Van Vulpen and Bradford also alleged that the Dunns had been “burning a shed” and that building materials, tarpaper and shingles had been burned.
The shed had allegedly been moved to the Fourth Avenue property from another location.
Police Chief Anderson said from personal experience, he knew that when shingles were burned, they left a distinctive residue but that no such residue had been found at the Dunn residence.
At the times police officers or the fire chief visited the Dunn residence, “those items were not being burned,” Police Chief Anderson said.
Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, said she had visited the Dunn property the previous Saturday and that blue painted boards had been piled on a trailer although she did not check the Dumpster for shingles.
Niggemann said the people who filed the complaints had sent pictures to her by e-mail.
Unfortunately, the pictures did not print off the computer well enough to be able to tell much of anything, Niggemann said.
“I have no problem writing a citation if it can be proven (the Dunns) were burning something illegal, But we need to prove it’s a violation first,” Police Chief Anderson said.
Police Chief Anderson noted that he did not know Brenda or Tony personally and had not met them before the evening of the public safety committee meeting.
Not writing a citation is not due to any favoritism, but rather, because there has been no evidence of illicit burning, Police Chief Anderson said.
The fine for a first offense regarding the village’s burning ordinance is $169, and the fine for a second offense is $200.50, he noted.
“There were blue boards on the fire, but no one came for hours,” Bradford said.
“They did not burn all of the blue boards (because) they were still there on Saturday in a pile,” Niggemann said.
“We all like a campfire,” Bradford said, “but we are concerned about building materials. We want it to stop and not see it anymore.”
Van Vulpen said she does not mind wood smoke from a campfire, but that she objects to toxic smoke from mattresses or furniture being burned.
“If it is going on, this will make a point,” Police Chief Anderson said.
Tony Dunn said he separates out items into a burnable pile, a painted boards pile and a shingles pile.
He said his neighbors are welcome to come over at any time, although he does not want his neighbors taking pictures or videos of his children when they are in the yard.
Logslett said that anyone who is concerned about open burning in the village could call any firefighter to check on the open burning.
Don Knutson, director of the Colfax Rescue Squad, issues burning permits for the village.
The pertinent information from the village’s open burning ordinance is on the permit, he said, adding that while he issues permits for burning, he does not check on the fire.
The fire chief, police department and Dunn County receive copies of the permits, Knutson said.
The letter of complaint from Bradford, Van Vulpen and McDaniel also mentioned four wheelers as a problem in the Dunns’ backyard.
The four-wheelers and snowmobiles are ridden around the house and the yard for quite a long time and the noise disturbs the neighborhood, Van Vulpen said.
There is no ordinance against people riding four-wheelers and snowmobiles on their own property in the village, Police Chief Anderson said.
Van Vulpen said she was concerned for the safety of children who were riding four-wheelers and snowmobiles.
As long as the children are wearing helmets and have the proper certificates indicating they have had safety training, there is no problem, Police Chief Anderson said.
Section 10-1-40 of the village’s ordinances does address disturbance of the peace with a motor vehicle.
“It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle in such a manner which shall make or cause to be made any loud, disturbing, or unnecessary sound or noise such as may tend to annoy or disturb another in or about any public or private area in the Village of Colfax … no person shall, within the Village of Colfax, by or through the use of any motor vehicle, including but not limited to an automobile, truck, motorcycle, minibike or snowmobile, cause or provoke disorderly conduct with a motor vehicle, cause a disturbance or annoy one or more persons, or disturb or endanger the property or the safety of another’s person or property.”
The agenda item was to discuss the complaint letter about 506 Fourth Avenue.
The public safety committee did not make any recommendations to the village board.