Moffat County Commissioner issues letter of apology regarding burn

Authorities were called to report of smoke July 5 at Tom Gray's residence

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Tom Gray

Moffat County Commissioner issues apology letter about burn while ban was in effect:

To the editor:

I lit a fire when a fire ban was on. No excuses or justifications, I was wrong.

The article did an accurate job of describing the facts at the time. Beyond that, actions speak louder than words, and my actions send the message that I believe I am somehow above the rules.

My actions call into question my personal ethics and moral standards, and as a Christian reflect badly on my fellow believers and on God himself.

I've said to myself many times in the last few days, "What was I thinking?"

However, what is done is done and I can only say this isn't how I've lived my life or what I believe.

I apologize to the citizens of Moffat County. I made a mistake.

Tom Gray

Moffat County Commissioner

Law enforcement officers and firefighters responded to a Moffat County elected official's home earlier this month based on a report of smoke.

Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Bill Johnston was reportedly the first firefighter on the scene and issued a stand-down page when he discovered Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray was burning trash the night of July 5 in an incinerator at his home on North Colorado Highway 13.

During a June 29 special county commission meeting, Gray voted in favor of Resolution 2012-81, which banned all open fires in Moffat County, a move made in response to one of the worst wildfire seasons in state history. As the commission's acting chairman, Gray signed the resolution.

During the June 29 meeting, Gray questioned whether the ban was necessary.

Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said his deputies conducted an investigation into the July 5 burning, but did not cite Gray.

“My deputies looked at every possible option, but could not come up with a charge that would stick,” Jantz said. “Had they been able to do so, he (Gray) would have received a citation just like anyone else.”

Potential charges include firing woods or prairie lands, unlawful conduct on public property, leaving an unattended campfire, obstructing government operations, fourth-degree arson, reckless endangerment and unlawful use of fireworks pursuant to Governor John Hickenlooper’s June 14 executive order.

“The resolution, as adopted, allows for certain fines and penalties, but only if the fire moves and causes property damage or personal injury,” Jantz said. “It is exactly because of this type of behavior that I asked the commission for an ordinance (in May).”

An ordinance, Jantz said, would have provided law enforcement officers with the authority to levy penalties for noncompliance, regardless of property damage, injury or death.

Gray doesn't believe he acted negligently.

“If I thought it was dangerous in any way, I wouldn’t have lit it,” he said.

He justified the burn by citing that it was raining July 5 and his incinerator was contained.

Gray said he also cleared the area around the incinerator of any potential fuels. Regardless, Gray violated a fire ban he not only supported, but signed.

“I set a fire, I lit my trash — albeit in a closed container and while it was raining — with absolutely no risk of it spreading,” Gray said. “I violated the letter of the law and I am guilty of that without question. Would I do it again? Absolutely not.

“But, I do feel that commonsense prevailed that night and I think it should continue to prevail.”

Commissioners Tom Mathers and Audrey Danner declined to comment on the incident, both citing their working relationship with Gray.

“It would be a cold day in hell before I started burning with the conditions the way they are,” Mathers said. “But, I can’t comment on that. That should come from Tom (Gray).”

Jantz also declined to comment further about the incident or how he feels the community might respond.

“We’re doing our part. We’re enforcing a resolution as adopted by the county,” Jantz said. “It would be inappropriate for the Sheriff’s Office to comment (about a commissioner’s actions) directly or to speculate on how the community may or may not respond.

“I have a feeling we’ll be getting our answer on that soon enough.”

Despite rains over the weekend, the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit reported that fire danger remains very high in Moffat County, high in Rio Blanco County, and moderate in Routt, Jackson, and Grand counties.

Stage 2 fire restrictions remain in effect throughout Northwest Colorado.

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Comments

John Milligan 2 years, 5 months ago

This is another occasion where what the people have to abide by the Authority does not...

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juju 2 years, 5 months ago

Rain or no rain, the ban exists and I, for one, will follow it until it is lifted.

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cory5611 2 years, 5 months ago

Here is a county commissioners that can make a law for everyone but him self to abide by he should have been fined and charged for the call out by the fire dept and sheriff dept that cost us the tax payers for them to go to now thats a whole load of crap

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Terrie Barrie 2 years, 5 months ago

Would it be appropriate for the Commissioner to be charged a fee for the fire response team's expenses in lieu of a citation?

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Terrie Barrie 2 years, 5 months ago

Cory5611

Seems like the two of us are on the same page for this issue. We are lucky that a real fire didn't develop while the equipment was tied up at the Commissioner's property.

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GreyStone 2 years, 5 months ago

Only the “little” people need follow the law, while the rest of us make law. Us big shots are to smart and don’t need a pee on telln us what 2 do.

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needstoknow 2 years, 5 months ago

I AGREE with everyone!! We are all just DIRT underneath the LAW an OTHERS that are on boards for comm. an Mayor!!! They do as they please as if we was to do the same we would of got cited or even fined for that matter.. I watched a Craig cop one time (I followed) fly threw town with his lights on just to meet up with another to shoot the crap! hmmmm to bad we all can't do the same.. Try that an see where it gets ya bein a civilian without a BADGE!!! A BUNCH OF CRAP IF YA ASK ME!!!!!!!!

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TSnyder 2 years, 5 months ago

“I set a fire, I lit my trash — albeit in a closed container and while it was raining — with absolutely no risk of it spreading,” Gray said. “I violated the letter of the law and I am guilty of that without question. Would I do it again? Absolutely not." He admits guilt to violating the law and yet is not fined? Any expense incurred to the call out should be paid and an apology should be forthcoming to this community for his blatant disregard of the fire ban.

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Marilynn Hill 2 years, 5 months ago

Apparently Mr. Gray needs a lesson on fire behavior. Doesn't matter what you clear around your incinerator, it is that errant ember that gets away and lands on your neighbors property. Geez! Finally, I don't understand why he was not cited. Was he burning, yes. Did he have a permit, no. Open and shut case.

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Taxpayer 2 years, 5 months ago

Tom Gray made a mistake but he is man enough to write a letter to the community, admitting the mistake, and know he would have to handle the comments from the community too. He stands tall in my book! Thanks for showing the others how a man conducts himself after making a poor decision.

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Marilynn Hill 2 years, 5 months ago

@Taxpayer. I agree. I takes a lot to stand up and admit that you were entirely wrong, still does not quiet my thoughts of why he would do it to begin with. Hopefully he learned that no means no; not no means no only when you get caught.

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FormerCountyEmployee 2 years, 5 months ago

So this means the fire ban has no teeth. I can BBQ brats on my charcoal grill on my patio without fear of being fined. So if the Sheriff cant find a way to fine the commissioner he cannot fine me either if there are "no possible options" then I am above the law too. BBQ away!

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GreyStone 2 years, 5 months ago

We never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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