Moffat County Commissioner issues letter of apology regarding burn
Authorities were called to report of smoke July 5 at Tom Gray's residence
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.
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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Next week, Colorado Northwestern Community College and Moffat County are hosting a free day-long seminar for local ranchers and agriculture producers.