Boy Sparks Blaze Near Apartments

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Firefighters quickly suppressed a fast-moving blaze that police and fire officials say was intentionally started in a discarded mattress.

"The fire was an act of arson," Fire Marshal Jack Babb said. "One juvenile (a 10-year-old) was arrested."

Fire crews from Payson, Diamond Star and the Forest Service were dispatched 3:50 p.m. Wednesday to a vacant lot next to an apartment complex on Frontier Street. Winds caught trees, brush and a small portion of the complex on fire.

"It was a first alarm fire behind 308 West Frontier," Babb said. "It was an overgrown lot with a lot of furniture and other debris tossed in."

According to Payson Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Barker, the situation could have been disastrous.

"Payson is tinder dry right now," Barker said. "These were green trees and they went up like gasoline. The radiant heat was extreme -- the flames were twice as high as the trees."

According to Babb, the fire started in the discarded furnishings and had spread rapidly through the vegetation with embers floating in the air.

"One of the units caught fire on the outside, but was quickly extinguished by firefighters," Babb said. "And there were a couple of spot fires that started on the other side of the complex."

Police became involved when it was determined that arson may have been the cause. Det. Matt VanCamp said the area around the discarded mattress and other furniture was now considered a crime scene.

Shortly after the fire was put out, police had their suspect.

"(The suspect's) brother ratted him out and he confessed to it," Babb said. "The young man stated he used a lighter on the mattress."

Police Chief Gordon Gartner, who was at the scene, said mattresses are extremely flammable.

"We can't have trash around our town like this," Barker said.

Problem properties

In May, Planning Specialist Gary Butkus noticed the furniture and asked the owners to clean it up. Since the furniture straddled two property lines, there was some dispute between the owners on whose mess it was, Butkus said.

"Both property owners were jointly working to get it cleaned up," Butkus said. "Apparently they were a bit too late. I was out there just yesterday confirming that (the furniture) was still out there and when I came back there was a message on my voice mail from one of the owners asking me to give them just a little more time."

According to Butkus, there are many "problem properties" in Payson.

"When I get a complaint on it I work with the owners and set a verbal time line," Butkus said. "If it's a safety issue then we'll work a lot quicker."

Butkus said that if no effort is made, he sends out a notice of violation giving the owner 15 days to abate the nuisance. If nothing is done, the owner will receive a civil citation and a judge can order them to clean it up.

The fire demonstrated one of the potential hazards of improper disposal of unwanted items.

"It's everyone's concern," Butkus said. "When you get that kind of what we call an attractive nuisance, people that don't have sound judgment will go out there and get in trouble with it. That's probably what happened."

Although no one was injured in the blaze, damage estimates are about $2,000 and fire suppression costs, $2,300.

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