Friday June 21, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- An investigation into the actions of local firemen allegedly involved in an illegal burn at a mud-bogging event last month is expected to be completed this week and result in some type of enforcement action, a state official said Thursday.

Gary Kessler, director of compliance and enforcement for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said DEC investigator Patrick Lowkes told him a review of a fire at the Mudder’s Day event in May is concluding.

"My expectation is that the investigation will be completed this week," Kessler said.

An anonymous tip about the burning of a camper at the popular, private event held by Bennington resident Milo Campbell sparked the investigation. Pictures posted on social media sites and at least one video posted on YouTube show members of the Bennington Rural Fire Department at the event in fire gear.

The video shows a white Cadillac driving through the burning camper followed by firemen in BRFD gear putting out the fire.

Fifteen members of the fire department who were at the event were initially suspended by BRFD Chief Shawn Gardner. Those members were reinstated on Tuesday, however, following a two-hour meeting attended by the suspended firemen and their supporters.

Gardner said Tuesday that reinstating the firemen violated the department’s bylaws, but it appeared to be in the department’s best interest for the time being despite the ongoing investigation, he said.


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DEC will look to hold someone accountable for deliberately setting the fire without a permit, Kessler said. However, Kessler said Thursday that he was not sure whether the department or individual firefighters will be held responsible.

"As far as what outcome will be, I expect there will be one. There will be enforcement. There was a fire that was not permitted," Kessler said. "At this point I don’t know who is responsible and who did what."

BRFD Captain Roger Hughs admitted publicly during Tuesday’s regular meeting of the BRFD Prudential that he ignited the fire. But Kessler said investigators will look into all people potentially responsible for the fire.

"Did the chief tell him, ‘Hey let’s get it done this way?’ I don’t know the answer to that," Kessler said.

Penalties for an illegal burn range from civil violation tickets to criminal matters in environmental court, according to Kessler. However, referrals to prosecutors for criminal actions is very rare, he said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami