To burn or not to burn is the question

Independence City Council caught in dispute 

The Independence City Council is finding itself in the middle of a dispute between a couple who live on Lake Independence and two fire departments that want to burn down a house next door and give firefighters hands-on experience in the process.

Mark and Sharyl Fischer, of 3162 Independence Road, Tuesday, June 17, asked the City Council to stop the burn, tentatively scheduled for July 19. The house that would be used for the training burn is 250 feet away from the Fischer house. Also, the Fischers have six horses that pasture in an area 100 feet from the proposed house burn. And the house is right along Lake Independence.

For Sharyl Fischer, the biggest concern is her health. She said she has had three surgeries on her sinuses within the past year. She feared that the fire would smoulder for days, and she did not want to risk breathing polluted air, she said. She already has trouble with pollen.

Mark Fischer said the proposed burn house has an absentee owner who has been unable to sell the property with a house on it. The owner’s plan is to remove the house to make the property more saleable. The Fischers asked him to have the house demolished rather than burned down. He said he would do that if the Fischers would pay him $12,000.

“It looks to us that he’s doing this primarily to save money,” Mark Fischer said.

“So my health has to pay because he wants to save money?” Sharyl Fischer said. “What are my rights as a land owner?”

She called the request for money “extortion.”

“I have to come up with $12,000 so I don’t get sick again? It’s not necessary to burn this house down,” she said. “They can knock it down.”

She expressed concern about her horses and said they get upset when someone sets off Fourth of July 4 fireworks.

“Moving horses is not easy,” she added.

“We’re paying for all the risks,” she said. “This guy has never lived there.”

Mark Fischer said he had talked with Maple Plain Fire Chief Dave Eisinger. The chief said the Fischers could either file a lawsuit or plead their case before the Independence City Council.

Fischer asked the council to study the issue further. Someone should investigate whether burning the house would violate city ordinances because of toxic material. He also asked whether permits have been obtained and whether the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health have inspected the house.

Eisinger said he has applied for a permit with the MPCA and toxic materials in the house have been abated. Maple Plain City Attorney Jeff Carson has told him that if the two fire departments follow all the rules, they are “clear to go.”

Eisinger added that if a strong wind is coming from the north on the day of the training burn, the fire departments would choose another date.

He explained that firefighters would make the fire burn as hot as possible to consume as much of the building as possible. Firefighters would not put much water on the fire. The building would smoulder for about 20 hours. A two-week wait is needed before the debris can be hauled away.

“Hopefully, we get one structure per year to train on,” he said.

Training at a fire training facility is not the same because it has concrete walls and gas burners are used to create flames.

“It is not like a real structure fire,” he said.

New firefighters need to go through a live burn to complete their training, and veteran firefighters hone their skills during live burns, Eisinger said. Live burns enable firefighters to use the fire department’s own equipment.

“You have to train how you work,” he said.

City Councilor Brad Spencer said he has a firefighter in his family.

“As inconvenient as this is, it’s an incredible training opportunity for a lot of firefighters that, frankly, could save lives,” he said.

After everyone stated their cases, Mayor Marvin Johnson said: “We at least need to say it can’t be done on July 19 (the date of the proposed training burn). The burn has to be delayed until we get more information.”

The City Council tabled the issue to a meeting in July.

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at [email protected]