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Chehalis: Peaceful panhandling permitted, just nowhere near storefronts or most-traveled areas

Friday, September 4th, 2015

The busy retail area on the west side of Interstate 5 in Chehalis is virtually off limits for panhandling, begging or soliciting.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Those who stand on the corners of busy Chehalis intersections asking for money – typically with a handwritten cardboard sign declaring their need – may need to relocate to a quieter part of town if they want to avoid a fine.

Those whose begging practices include getting up close and personal with their targets, or even fibbing about their bad luck situation, need to take heed as well.

A new law went into effect on Wednesday, heavily curtailing panhandling inside the city limits of Chehalis.

The ordinance was passed by the city council last week. It basically puts off limits all of Chamber of Commerce Way, the arterial that takes shoppers over Interstate 5 at the north end of town to the roughly one mile north-south stretch that is home to Wal-Mart, the Twin City Town Center and other businesses. The activity is essentially banned as well all along that retail strip of Northwest Louisiana Avenue from K-Mart to beyond I-5 Toyota .

It also prohibits the act of panhandling, begging or soliciting within 25 feet of the entrance to any building anywhere in the city, or, within 25 feet of a potential “donor’s” parked vehicle while they are loading or unloading it. And after dark.

A first time violation can cost $250.

Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer said back when the city of Centralia enacted its rules on panhandling, he was asked if Chehalis ought to do the same. He said no, he didn’t see any problems, at the time.

But that’s changed over the past year or so, Schaffer said.

“We’ve started seeing trash accumulating, and getting complaints from businesses in the area,” he said earlier this week.

Sometimes it’s been about panhandlers who would return, even after being asked to leave, he said.

“And complaints from business owners and managers, who are getting complaints from their customers, who are being approached as they’re coming and going,” he said.

While a first-time violation is a civil infraction, a ticket, further offenses could prompt the issuance of a citation for a criminal misdemeanor, according to the chief.

That kind of citation would mean a mandatory appearance before a judge and, if convicted, a fine of up to $1,000 and as long as 90 days in jail.

The city council passed the new law last week at its regular meeting, claiming serious public harm caused by panhandlers.

The ordinance’s introductory section expresses the council’s desire to protect citizens and visitors from fear and intimidation from some kinds of solicitation.

It also makes note of the city’s interest in promoting business and tourism and preserving the quality of urban life as well as mentioning risk to traffic and public safety.

Certain kinds of panhandling are outlawed altogether, anywhere, anytime.

The ordinance bans what it calls coercive solicitation, which includes what some might think of as aggressive panhandling, and also includes making any false or misleading representations in the course of a solicitation.

Prohibited activity includes approaching within one foot of the person, persisting after the person gives a negative response, blocking a person or their vehicle, or engaging in any conduct that would reasonably be construed as intended to compel or force a person being solicited to accede to demands.

Chehalis’s police Sgt. Gary Wilson said the first day under the new rules went fine.

“There were none out there to be seen,” Wilson said. “So either word spread around, or maybe it was the weather.”

The issue came up back in May, when Council Member Chad Taylor asked if the city manager might look into Centralia’s ordinance on panhandling, so that Chehalis could do something similar.

At a June city council meeting, Chief Schaffer reported back, according to minutes from the meeting, explaining the city could put restrictions in place if they served a significant government interest, as long as they left open sufficient channels for the activity. An individual’s right to beg for money is protected speech under the First Amendment, Schaffer told the council.

He noted Chehalis the year before had repealed its former panhandling ordinance because it was unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Schaffer told the council they had received about 20 complaints since January, all related to panhandling on private property, specifically the Twin City Town Center, the Main Street Food Mart and the Jack-in-the Box. He noted the police department had gotten no official complaints regarding panhandling on public property, but there had been a number of comments such as “they make me feel uncomfortable” and, “can something be done about the trash they leave behind.”

He offered up details about Pierce County’s private property soliciting ordinance, but Mayor Dennis Dawes said it appeared there was interest on the part of the council to take it to the next step.

Earlier this month, the proposed ordinance was brought before the council, with a discussion that included how panhandlers presence in driveways and along roadways adds to the traffic hazards. Schaffer reported that 45 percent of city-wide traffic accidents during the past three years occurred in the area that is Chamber Way from State Street to Louisiana Avenue, and along Louisiana Avenue from K-Mart to Home Depot.

Specifically, in terms of locations on the map, the ordinance that passed bans solicitation within 25 feet of the entrance to any building, unless specific permission has been given by the business owner or occupant.

It’s banned at all on or off ramps to state routes or interstate highways, specifically all those along Interstate 5; at Chamber Way, Main Street and 13th Street.

It’s banned within 300 feet – think the length of a football field – from any of the three intersections along Chamber of Commerce Way: at National Avenue, at State Street and at Louisiana Avenue.

It’s banned within 300 feet of the entrances to the parking lots of all businesses from the 1200 block of Louisiana Avenue, K-Mart, to the 2100 block of Louisiana Avenue, north of I-5 Toyota.

The same goes for any driveways existing or installed in the future on the street between Wal-Mart and Home Depot known as Arkansas Way.

One part of the ordinance also prohibits any kind of selling or distributing anything to a person who is in a vehicle at any of those locations in the congested area.

Another section makes it clear that providing or delivering unrequested services or products with a demand for payment would be a coercive solicitation.

Chief Schaffer this week said he didn’t know if 25 feet meant every part of the sidewalks that run through the historic center of town on North Market Boulevard are off limits. Sgt. Wilson said he thought that might be true, but officers would have to look at each case as it comes.

The chief said he didn’t know if any of the collisions he counted in the congested areas were actually caused by panhandlers, only that there is the further distraction of people on the corners with signs, and motorists stopping to give money.

He also couldn’t address exactly what was the “serious public harm” caused by panhandling cited in the ordinance, saying those weren’t his words.

The ordinance notes the city still allows for safe and appropriate venues for the constitutionally protected activity.

“We can’t outright prohibit it,” Schaffer said. “So if people want to peacefully panhandle, as long as it’s not in the area outlined in the ordinance, they’re free to do that.”

Ordinance No. 944-B, is added as an amendment to Chapter 7.04.320 of the Chehalis Municipal Code.

As Lewis County’s fourth large wildfire expands, some still ignoring burn ban

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Alder Lake fire continues to grow and progress to the southeast, but an expected change to wet and cooler weather in Western Washington could bring some relief.

The National Weather Service indicates that tomorrow through the weekend rain will become locally heavy at times, especially in the mountains. Daytime temperatures are forecast to be lower than normal, with many lowland sites not even reaching 70 degrees, according to the weather service.


Centralia-Alpha Road, 18 acres, Onalaska Aug. 4, 2015

The conditions could help reduce the size of or even end ongoing fires in the mountains, the forecasters said this morning.

The forest fire northwest of Mineral has now consumed 225 acres and is threatening residences on or near the Pleasant Valley Road, outside of Mineral. Those living there were told yesterday afternoon to start making plans to evacuate.

The firefighting effort is being managed by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the state Department of Natural Resources. About 105 personnel remain assigned to the lightning-sparked fire that was discovered 17 days ago just south of Alder Lake.

While the end or break in the hot, dry spell is surely welcome news, Steve Mansfield of Lewis County Department of Emergency Management, cautions the public to remain vigilant about fire danger.


Gish Road, 102 acres,
Onalaska Aug. 9, 2015

“The Pacific Northwest has reached such a low moisture level, it may take weeks once the rain starts before the danger of fire is reduced,” Mansfield stated in a news release today.

Although outdoor burning is usually prohibited during the driest months of the year in unincorporated Lewis County, officials earlier this month issued a ban on even recreational fires, as did the cities of Chehalis and Centralia.

Besides the Alder Lake fire, Lewis County has seen three other large vegetation fires already this month, each increasingly bigger. Last week a grass fire in Onalaska rolled through 175 acres, decimating a farming operation and consuming 200,000 chickens with their barns.


Gore Road, 175 acres,
Onalaska Aug. 19, 2015

Still, some fire departments have been running a little ragged, responding to calls that turn out to be illegal burning.

Every time it rains a bit, that picks up, Firefighter Brad Bozarth said.

Bozarth estimated his department, Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue in Napavine, has gone to 30 such calls since the restrictions were put in place.

“Usually its recreational fires, or someone burning trash,” he said.

For a first offense, the firefighters usually just advise the people of the rules, he said.

Earlier this week, Mossyrock’s fire chief was feeling less patient about those who’ve ignored the danger.

Lewis County Fire District 3 Chief Doug Fosburg said his department chased campfires all weekend. The offenders usually claim they didn’t know of the ban, he said.


Alder Lake, 225 acres,
Elbe-Mineral area, ongoing

“People haven’t gotten the idea they can’t have open flames,” he said.

Each time he and his crews are toned out, they have to react as though it’s a working structure fire, with everyone responding, he said.

In one case, Fosburg said, the resident assumed since they’d watered their yard, it would be fine.

“I explained, you can’t control what goes airborne,” he said.

Both he and Salkum’s fire chief had to stop what they were doing at the Gore Road chicken farm to deal with illegal burns, he said.

Ignoring the outdoor burn ban can be costly even if one doesn’t accidentally burn down their neighbors house.

Acting Lewis County Fire Marshal Lee Napier said it’s a civil infraction which can bring a fine of up to $250.

On the criminal side, the sanction is a gross misdemeanor, with the possibility of a fine up to $10,000 and up to 364 days in jail.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Stacy Brown said yesterday morning she wasn’t aware of any such citations issued this year.

Typically, reports of illegal burning are handled by the particular fire department, according to Brown.

“The fire department then goes out and evaluates the situation and typically educates the person,” Brown said. “If the person refuses to put it out or causes a problem, then we respond and use our discretion, as always, to evaluate the situation.”

Chief Fosburg said he doesn’t give people a choice. He  waits and watches the campfire getting put out, and sticks around to make sure it’s entirely extinguished.

“If I have to go back more than once, I will bring law enforcement with me,” he said.

The causes of the first three big fires are unknown, although the sheriff’s office said preliminarily the Gore Road incident was believed to have been sparked by a brush hog operating in a field. DNR is investigating them.

Outdoor burning in unincorporated Lewis County has been prohibited since mid-June, with the increased restrictions put into place within days of the Centralia-Alpha Road fire.

Those in the Mineral area have been advised to continue to monitor their local news media.

The weather service has also noted it it will likely become locally windy on Saturday due to a strong front moving across the area.

For the details about the specifics:

The Lewis County Board of Commissioner’s resolution allows for enforcement under Lewis County Code 15.05.020.  The code referencing the penalty for violation is under RCW 70.94.430(1).

For background, read “Fire evacuation alerts issued for residents west of Mineral” from Wednesday August 26, 2015, here

Fire evacuation alerts issued for residents west of Mineral

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Looking south across Alder Lake at mid-day on Tuesday. / Courtesy photo by Raymond Schrader

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A lightning-caused forest fire northwest of Mineral has grown from 60 acres to 173 acres since Friday and is progressing to the southeast, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

More than 200 members of the public attended a community meeting at the Mineral School last night to hear information about the wildfire and this afternoon, a level one evacuation notice was issued for people living on or near the Pleasant Valley Road.

A Code Red notification was sent out by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office at about 3:45 p.m. today, to those who have registered their phone numbers with the emergency alert system.

“(Level one) means that danger exists and you should begin making arrangements to evacuate,” the alert stated. “Evacuations at this time are voluntary.”

Pleasant Valley Road is northwest of Mineral.

If the fire advances to necessitate a level two evacuation notice, residents should either voluntarily relocate to a shelter or with family or friends outside of the affected area, according to the Lewis County Department of Emergency Management. Those who choose to stay should be ready to go at a moments notice.

If a level two evacuation occurs, shelter would be setup in the Morton area, according to the sheriff’s office.

The fire was first reported two weeks ago, burning just south of Alder Lake. It is approximately four miles west of Elbe, five miles from Mineral and seven miles south of Eatonville.

It is being managed by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the state Department of Natural Resources.

One hundred and five personnel are assigned to the fire, which is being battled with heavy equipment, fire engines, a helicopter and hand crews.

The fire behavior today was described as moderate, creeping, rolling and occasional torching. It’s burning in steep rugged terrain on a 60 percent slope.

The incident commander’s primary objective is to stop and hold eastward spread of the fire.

Fifteen homes are threatened, as are 20 other structures, all on the Lewis County side of the fire, according to Public Information Officer Kristen Bowles. The fire is only two percent contained. Forest Service Roads 74 and 7409 have been closed.

Alder Lake is at the intersection of Lewis, Thurston and Pierce counties.

A level three evacuation notice, if issued, would mean leave immediately because danger is current or imminent.

The Lewis County Sheriff’ Office indicated in its Code Red alert that people can get additional information from the sheriff’s office website or call the DEM information line at 360-740-1152. Locals may contact Alder Lake Fire Information at 360-623-5525.

Emergency Management recommends people continue to monitor their local news media as well.

Other Resources:

• Northwest Large Fire Information Summary, here

• InciWeb Incident Information System, here

• The Forest Service-Gifford Pinchot National Forest on Facebook, here

• Sign up for Code Red alerts, here


The south shore of Alder Lake dips into Lewis County. / Courtesy photo by Raymond Schrader

Firefighters’ work at Gore Road fire done, mostly

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

Salkum Fire Department’s fire engine-tender / Courtesy photo by Lewis County District 8


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – After three days of pulling apart a dozen 20,000 square-foot buildings to extinguish smoldering hot spots at the Onalaska chicken farm that burned, the all-volunteer fire department was able to turn the scene over to the property owner yesterday.

Firefighters from the state Department of Natural Resources finished their work the night before and put the fire on patrol status yesterday, Lewis County Fire District 8 Fire Chief Duran McDaniel said this morning.


Wednesday Aug. 19, 2015

The fire that rolled through 175 acres of grass, tree lines and briars on Wednesday destroyed 12 large chicken barns, three or four tractors and one fire engine-tender that was abandoned when a wall of flames jumped a fire break where a crew was defending a large propane tank.

The farmer’s house was saved as was a neighbor’s barn and several other structures,

Neilson’s chicken farm is located on the 200 block of Gore Road, west of Salkum.

“I can’t thank all of the volunteers enough,” McDaniel said.

In a phone interview, the chief’s voice broke as he spoke of the help his department got from fire districts in three counties. And crews from Pacific County were on standby, he said.

“It’s overwhelming,” McDaniel said this morning.

Over the past three days, members of his department, with some help from Lewis County Fire Districts 6 and 1, worked until midnight, he said.

Eight of the 12 barns contained chickens. Thousands of chickens perished and with the heat, most were consumed, he said. Each wood-framed, metal-sided building measured 40 feet by 500 feet long.

They worked with crews from Draper Valley Farms and tractors, pulling back the metal to make sure everything was extinguished and to get rid of all the heat, he said.

A spokesperson with the Mount Vernon headquartered poultry company said 200,000 chickens were lost. Draper Valley owns the chickens; the farmer raises Draper Valley’s chickens under contract, according to Julie DeYoung.

“It’s a tragic situation and we are working with the farmer to minimize the economic impact from losing this flock,” DeYoung said. “We are thankful that no one was injured fighting the fire.”

Chief McDaniel said two very large stockpiles of sawdust have sprinklers on them, and will probably have to be torn apart as well to make sure nothing reignites.

“We’re blessed, we have volunteers that work opposite shifts,” McDaniel said, meaning they would leave to go to their regular jobs at different times.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has said the fire is believed to have been sparked by a tractor-brush hog operating in a field.

The fire, among the largest seen in Lewis County, prompted evacuations for a mile around. Residents weren’t given the all-clear to return home until almost 8 o’clock on Wednesday night.

Officials have been warning all season that the exceptionally hot and dry summer is presenting extreme fire danger. Two weeks ago, McDaniel and his department assisted neighboring Lewis County Fire District 1 with a wildfire that was the largest McDaniel had seen in more than three decades – the Gish Road fire was 102 acres.

This fire was nearly twice as large.

“DNR confirmed the fire behavior we saw has only been seen in Eastern Washington,” McDaniel said.

All outdoor burning is banned. Only closed-lid barbecues are allowed.

Last night, McDaniel said, he responded to three calls for prohibited activities, including one campfire and two parties burning open-propane fires.

His message to members of the public today: “Please, please, observe the burning regulations.”

For background, read “Onalaska chicken farm and almost 200 acres consumed by wildfire” from Thursday August 20, 2015, here

Authorities: Stay out of Winlock creek, avoid contaminated runoff from warehouse fire

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Responder examines fish from Olequa Creek. / Courtesy photo by Department of Ecology

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Local officials yesterday joined state ecologists in warning residents not to swim or play in Olequa Creek after all species and sizes of fish, insects and other living organisms were killed for five miles downstream of Tuesday’s warehouse fire.

The early morning blaze in Winlock destroyed a 14,640-square-foot building. Runoff from the fire’s extinguishment that included cooking oil reached a storm drain, and seeped into Olequa Creek behind the building.

Olequa Creek is a tributary to the Cowlitz River.

Lewis County Public Health & Social Services cautions the public to stay out, at least to Ferrier Road and avoid any water with a visible sheen of oil.

Bill Teitzel, the department’s environmental services supervisor, indicated that local staff have inspected the area and will continue to monitor the situation.

Spill responders by Wednesday afternoon had already filled two 21,000 gallon tanks with oily waste water, according to the state Department of Ecology. The number of dead fish is most likely closer to thousands rather than hundreds, the state agency said.

The warehouse stored grocery products.

Authorities confirmed with the building’s owners they had recently received 1,124 gallons of vegetable and canola oil, according to the state agency. They also stored vegetable shortening.

DOE hired Cowlitz Clean Sweep from Longview to assist with the cleanup and both were on the scene on Tuesday. Seventeen personnel with at least seven response trucks were on site on Wednesday.

They are continuing today to recover oil from the creek, using absorbent pads and vacuum trucks and have utilized sand berms and other methods to keep more polluted water from entering the waterway as the fire’s extinguishment has been ongoing.

The creek itself is not a drinking water source, or, more specifically, Lewis County Public Health is not aware of any approved drinking water source from Olequa, according to Teitzel.

The state Department of Ecology identifies the warehouse as belonging to Olympic Trading Company. The building and the property are shown by the Lewis County Assessors Office as 915 N.W. Kerron St. and owned by Alternative Logistics LLC.

State authorities indicated the responsible party, the warehouse owner, is out of the country but has been cooperative.

Department of Ecology crews and cleanup contractors are expecting to keep working through the weekend and eventually move into a longer term passive cleanup program, according to Teitzel.

The cause of the fire is being investigated by Sgt. Sam Patrick of the Toledo Police Department.

For background, read “Winlock fire reduces grocery product warehouse to charred frame” from Tuesday August 18, 2015, here

Despite convictions, investigation still underway in death of 3-year-old Vader boy last year

Friday, August 21st, 2015

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The criminal case of the 3-year-old boy who died while in the care of a Vader couple last autumn continues to drag on.

Danny and Brenda Wing, both 27, have pleaded guilty under an agreement in which they’ve promised to share information with authorities and undergo polygraph examinations.


Jasper Henderling-Warner

Jasper Henderling-Warner died from what the coroner labeled chronic battered child syndrome last Oct. 5.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead back in May sought and was granted permission for sentencing to be held off, because, he said, the investigation was still ongoing.

In July, Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer revealed criminal charges could be filed against others. He didn’t rule out the little boy’s mother.

Brenda Wing was scheduled to be sentenced today in Lewis County Superior Court, but the hearing has been delayed. Danny Wing went before a judge last Friday when Halstead got a postponement for his sentencing.

Danny WIng’s lawyer opposed waiting, according to court documents.

Halstead last week said he is still waiting for unspecified things to happen in the case – including the polygraph tests – and it’s taking longer than he thought.

Each of the two have pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and third-degree child assault. They both face a standard sentencing range of between 146 months and 194 months in prison.

However, if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, prosecutors indicate in court documents they could add so-called enhancements, leaving the Wings facing terms up to life.

Authorities have spoken about the little boy’s injuries, but nothing has been shared publicly about how he got them.

The formal statements of guilt don’t offer much insight, as Danny Wing said he recklessly caused Jasper’s death by failing to get medical care for the boy and Brenda Wing’s statement says she recklessly caused the death, as an accomplice.

Jasper’s  21-year-old mother had given the couple temporary custody last summer while she was homeless and looked for work out of state.

Currently, Danny Wing’s sentencing is on the court calendar for Sept. 11 and his wife’s is scheduled for Sept. 25.

For background, read, “Prosecutor not ruling out other arrests in Vader toddler’s death” from Thursday July 2, 2015, here

Onalaska chicken farm and almost 200 acres consumed by wildfire

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Chicken farm fire on the 200 block of Gore Road. / Courtesy photo by Rhonda Volk

Updated at 5:49 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The fire believed to have been sparked by a tractor-brush hog operating in a field in Onalaska destroyed a dozen chicken barns and burned 175 acres of property.

Crews are still on the scene this morning.

“Everything is black, burned, but nothing right now is causing any major hazard,” Lewis County Fire District 8 Chief Duran McDaniel said this morning.

It was reported shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday at the Neilson’s chicken farm on the 200 block of Gore Road.

Crews created what McDaniel called a wet line to protect the farm and also to keep fire from getting to an 18,000 gallon propane tank.

McDaniel and two of his firefighters were putting water down around the tank when flames about 25 feet tall rolled over the fire break towards them, he said. Some neighbors were in the area as well, he said.

“We left on foot,” McDaniel said. “There was probably six or seven of us that ran out of there.”

They left behind a 2,500 gallon fire engine-tender that was destroyed, he said.

McDaniel called for everyone – fire personnel and residents alike – to evacuate the area for at least a half mile away from the propane tank, and then enlarged the zone to a mile, he said.

“The size of it, if it blew, it would have launched itself about a mile,” he said.

McDaniel at that point requested help from every fire chief in Lewis County. Assistance came that included fire tenders from all or almost all departments in the county, as well as two from Thurston County and two from Cowlitz County, he said.

Firefighters with the state Department of Natural Resources responded as well, he said.

The firefighting effort couldn’t continue until after a DNR helicopter was able to observe that the only thing still left burning near the tank was the fire truck, he said.

Homes in the area of the fire have Onalaska addresses, but are protected by the Lewis County Fire District 8, based in Salkum.

The farmer’s house was saved as was a neighbor’s barn and several other structures, according to McDaniel.

But 12 large chicken buildings were lost; eight of them occupied by poultry, he said.

Nobody was injured, but two firefighters became overheated, he said.

Critical fire weather conditions are expected to continue through the weekend, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

DNR is warning the public to take every available precaution to protect themselves during what they call emergency conditions.

All available resources, both statewide and nationally, are already deployed fighting wildfires across the American West, according to Carrie McCausland, DNR’s deputy director of communications.

More than 1,000 firefighters are battling 10 large wildfires on the other side of the mountains, where more than 120,000 acres have burned.

Three U.S. Forest Service firefighters were killed yesterday fighting fires in Okanogan County, and other federal and state wildland firefighters were burned or injured.

McCausland urges members of the public to take any evacuation order or emergency direction with the utmost seriousness.

Most firefighting agencies have, by necessity, adopted a defensive posture to contain the already overwhelming spread of wildfires, she stated in a news release this morning.

A fire that broke out a week and a half ago south of Gish Road in Onalaska scorched 102 acres of private property and at one point had about 170 personnel assigned to it.

On Aug. 5, approximately 50 DNR firefighters were working about four miles north of the Gish Road fire to extinguish 18 acres of burning brush and trees off Centralia-Alpha Road.

After District 8’s call for assistance yesterday, the Chehalis Fire Department was put on standby to answer any other calls as far away as Mossyrock, wherever they might be needed.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Dusty Breen said deputies provided traffic control and helped with evacuations.

Breen said it appeared the fire originated with the tractor-brush hog, but they are conducting an investigation.

U.S. Highway 12 was closed at Leonard Road in Ethel, and then expanded to reach from Jackson Highway at Mary’s Corner to Fuller Road in Salkum.

Gore Road was shut down at Fred Plant Road on the east end to Leonard Road at the west end; and Leonard’s closure extended north to Gish Road.

The Lewis County 911 center put out reverse 911 calls to advise residents in the area to evacuate beginning just after 3 p.m. and ending at 7:45 p.m. The Code Red emergency alert warning system is available to those who register their phone numbers with it.

McDaniel said it wasn’t until about 11 p.m. they felt like the fire was under control enough to wrap up for the night.

DNR is estimating the fire is 50 to 60 percent contained this morning.

District 8’s fire engine-tender that burned is worth about $350,000, according to McDaniel.

For background, read “Breaking news: Large fire prompts evacuations near Ethel” from Wednesday August 19, 2015, here


Deputies and firefighters knocked on doors for an evacuation of one mile in every direction after fire rolled over an 18,000 gallon propane tank. / Courtesy photo by John Cleveland

Breaking news: Large fire prompts evacuations near Ethel

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Looking north towards Ethel from near the Cowlitz River. / Courtesy photo

Updated at 7:56 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Evacuations are underway in a one-mile wide area around a several-acre fire burning in Lewis County.

U.S. Highway 12 is closed at Leonard Road in Ethel.

The fire is just north of there, at the 200 block of Gore Road.

Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza had a post made on the sheriff’s office Facebook page at 3:31 p.m. today, making the announcement.

He asks that citizens stay out of the area and to please evacuate, if needed.

The following roads have been closed:
• U.S. Highway 12 from Jackson Highway to Fuller Road.
• Leonard Road at Gish Road
• Leonard Road at U.S. Highway 12
• Gore Rd at Fred Plant Road

The sheriff’s brief message made mention that it’s not confirmed if a propane tank is actually pierced. The state Department of Natural Resources reported just before 4 p.m. that structures were threatened.

A large smoke column was visible just before 3 p.m. from more than five miles to the south.

Ethel is roughly eight miles east of Interstate 5.

Homes in the area of the fire have Onalaska addresses, but are protected by the Salkum Fire Department.

A Code Red reverse 911 call was sent out beginning at  3:05 p.m. today, to those who have previously signed up for the service.

It read: “Fire District 8 Chief is advising everyone in the area between Leonard Road and Kennedy Road and between highway 12 and Gore Road to evacuate due to a fire and hazardous conditions. Information about when it is safe to return will be available at 360-740-1152.

The state Department of Transportation advised at 5:27 p.m.: “For the safety of the traveling public, U.S. Highway 12 is closed between Jackson Highway and Fuller Road in Salkum due to the Gore Road Fire. Eastbound traffic is being detoured north to Jackson Highway then to state Route 508. Westbound traffic is to state Route 122 to Cinebar Road to state Route 508. Updates will be posted to the WSDOT Blog.”

However, DOT advised at 5:37 p.m. U.S. Highway 12 is now back opened.

Lewis County Fire District 8 advised at 7:45 p.m. that it is now safe for all residences evacuated from the Gore Road area to return home.

Steve Mansfield, who oversees the Lewis County Department of Emergency Management, said it appears fire crews will be out there for the rest of the evening, at least.

Further details to come.


Winlock fire reduces grocery product warehouse to charred frame

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Fire breaks out at Winlock warehouse. / Courtesy photo by Desiree Bowers

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

WINLOCK – Twelve hours after fire tore through a warehouse just up the street from the world’s largest egg in Winlock, smoke still rose from the sprawling pile of the building’s remains.

“We still have pockets of active flames,” Lewis County Fire District 15 Assistant Chief Kevin Anderson said.

An excavator was working through the debris so firefighters could continue to extinguish it.

The wood-framed, metal-sided structure stood on the west side of Northwest Kerron Street, just south of Laurel Street.

A similarly large warehouse to its south and two-story house to its north appeared untouched.

Anderson said firefighters arriving after the approximately 2:30 a.m. call found heavy smoke outside and flames visible from the north side of the building, coming out of a rollup door he believed had “failed”.

They were joined by crews from Vader, Toledo, Napavine and rural Chehalis, as well as the ladder truck from the Chehalis Fire Department.

It was an exterior attack, nobody was hurt, he said. The initial knockdown took well over an hour.

“I believe the business was, they were kind of like the middle man, selling materials to some of the liquidator stores,” Anderson said. “Mostly food items.”

It was filled with everything from ketchup and mustard to laundry detergent; pallets and pallets full of grocery products, plus plastic wrapping and packing materials, fire investigator Sam Patrick said.

“So your fire load was huge,” Patrick said.

Anderson said he didn’t know when people were last in the building, as the owners are away on vacation.

Patricia and Michael Parish, who reside in the Winlock area are out of the country, but had been contacted, according to Patrick.

Information from the Lewis County Assessors Office shows the 14,640-square-foot warehouse was built in 1968. It was labeled in fair condition. The assessed value is $220,000.

The building and the property – just shy of one acre – are listed as owned by Alternative Logistics LLC.

Among the rubble was a for-sale sign. Toledo Police Chief John Brockmueller said the property had been on the market off and on for three years or so.

Some of the run off from fire hoses reached a storm drain, and cooking oil seeped into Olequa Creek behind the building, according to personnel on the scene from the state Department of Ecology.

Spill Responder Ben Cornell said they had various ways of cleaning up what they could, including vacuuming oils from the water’s surface.

Brockmueller was there, as the city of Winlock recently contracted with Toledo for police services. Patrick is Sgt. Patrick with the Toledo Police Department. He also sits on the Winlock City Council.

Patrick said he expected it could be a couple of days before he could get in and start searching for the cause.


Firefighters continue putting out hot spots today at Northwest Kerron Street.

Smoke rises from the remains of pallets of grocery items after warehouse burns in Winlock.

Man struck by locomotive in Rochester, gets up and walks away

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Updated at 11:40 a.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 24-year-old walking on the railroad tracks in Rochester last night, was hit by a train and taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital with head and neck injuries.

“The crew said he was walking down the tracks, the train approached,” West Thurston Regional Fire Authority Chief Robert Scott said. “He stepped off to the side but not far enough.”

Firefighters called about 9:35 p.m. to the area near 183rd Avenue Southwest and Pendleton Street searched around the train, Scott said. They were joined by the crew of the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad train which had stopped, but didn’t find the man.

A sheriff’s deputy located the victim two blocks away on Daryl Lane, Scott said.

Ambulatory and conscious are not findings usually associated with such a call, Scott said.

“He was clipped by the corner of the engine, knocked clear and fell down in the gravel,” Scott said.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office described the injury as minor. Scott said visually it was obviously serious, but, he was still walking and talking.

Medics transported the patient to the Olympia hospital. He was treated and has been released, a hospital spokesperson said this morning.

Armed Centralia resident wounded with own firearm after contacting trespasser

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 39-year-old man with a gun who confronted a prowler in his yard in Centralia last night ended up shot in his foot with his own weapon, according to what he told police.

The man told police who arrived after the 9:24 p.m. call to the 500 block of Hamilton Avenue that he’d gone outside to feed his cat, saw someone on his property and confronted him, Sgt. Carl Buster said.

Police were told the prowler “rushed” him and struck him in the head with a pipe, Buster said.

The 39-year-old said he began to draw his pistol, but the other guy shoved the gun down, causing the victim to shoot himself, according to police. The victim fired a second round at the suspect while he was running away, police said.

The prowler then disappeared into the night, Buster said.

Police summoned aid for the man, set up “containment” around the area and attempted to find the subject they were told was a white or Hispanic male, Buster said.

A police dog was summoned to assist.

The K-9 sniffed around the yard but could not pick up a scent to track, Buster said.

The victim had a bump on his head as well as the gunshot wound, but has already been released from the hospital, he said.

Victim of freight train was locally renowned recycler

Friday, August 14th, 2015

The Locust Street crossing in Centralia sees more than 50 trains pass through it daily


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – Victor J. Bonagofski, a nearly lifelong resident of Centralia, lost his life when he fell off his bicycle on the railroad tracks and was hit by a freight train on Wednesday night.

Police say Bonagofski was at the Locust Street crossing, headed east and the crossing arms had come down. Witnesses told police he was was unable to move off the tracks prior to being struck.

The 72-year-old who made his living recycling and selling car parts had been behind the Hub Tavern on South Tower Avenue not long before it happened.

He was near the dumpsters, “doing what he normally does,” Centralia resident Jennifer Holt said.

She’d noticed him while she and her boyfriend were out in the bar’s beer garden.

Holt said she was taken aback when she learned later what had happened, and who was killed.

“I don’t know him, I know who he is,” she said this morning. “I’d see him a lot, doing the cardboard thing.”

The Lewis County coroner today released his name and said he concluded the death was accidental.

Born in North Dakota, Bonagofski was 10th of 14 children. His family moved to Centralia in 1950, according to one of his more than 60 nieces and nephews.

He lived on Reynolds Avenue, on a parcel of roughly two acres that over the years has drawn the attention of city and county officials, concerned about his thick collection of recyclables and vehicles.

He owned the land there, according to nephew Kevin Bonagofski.

Back in January of 2008, more than a dozen government employees, including law enforcement with their guns drawn, visited his property, accusing Bonagofski of operating an illegal wrecking yard. When they knocked on the door of his soon-to-be condemned mobile home tucked amongst scores of cars and trucks, Bonagofski had been burning sticks and blackberry vines in his wood stove and listening to a local radio talk show.

Twice before, the then-64-year-old said, they’d filed nuisance abatements on his property.

The man who earned a degree in business administration from Seattle University years earlier said it was time consuming, getting the property cleaned up – which is what he suspected officials really wanted – especially with interruptions of lawsuits and civil actions.

Lewis County code enforcement had been talking with him again in recent months.

Nephew Kevin Bonagofski said his uncle never married and had no children.

“I heard one time, he had a mail order bride, but it didn’t work out,” said Dave Dix who works at the commercial properties adjacent to Bonagofski’s compound.

Dix said Bonagofski would stop over once or twice a week, often buying cars when there was an auction.

“It was definitely a shock, he’s gonna be missed, that’s for sure,” Dix said.

Dix said he was told Bonagofski just laid there after he fell down; he wondered if maybe he had a heart attack or hit his head and was knocked out.

BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas said it was an empty grain train headed from Kalama to Montana that was involved. Crew on the northbound train saw someone and tried to stop, Melonas said.

“They went into an emergency brake application, but impact was made, unfortunately,” Melonas said.

It didn’t entirely surprise Dix that the neighbor would have tried to pedal across even after the crossing arms came down. He wasn’t exactly known for abiding by the rules.

“If it wasn’t in the Constitution, then it wasn’t the law,” Dix said. “He was hard on that, he pushed that issue.”

However, he was a good person, in good shape for a man of his age and was busy from daylight to dark, according to Dix. His driver’s license had been suspended, many times, so he usually rode a bicycle pulling a small trailer, he said.

“He was a worker, man he was a worker,” Dix said. “We used to watch him go up the road and come back with that trailer full.”

Lavonne Riggen, Bonagofski’s younger sister, came to the property this afternoon to help look for important documents.

“A lot people looked at Vic and thought he was just a bum,” Riggen said. “But they didn’t know how smart he was; he graduated from Seattle University with degrees in political science and business.”

He was just stubborn about his rights, she said.

The Centralia woman said her brother also was gifted when it came to auto mechanics.

“We used to say he was born with crank case oil in his blood,” she said.


Gish Road Fire: Minimal burning, but work continues with scores of personnel

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  The fire that consumed and scorched 102 acres of private property in Onalaska is considered 70 percent contained this morning.

Since Monday it has been mostly smoldering and smoking, having burned young Douglas fir and alder as well as thick underbrush and leftovers from previous logging.


Tuesday August 11, 2015

No one has been injured and no structures lost, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

One hundred seventy people are assigned to work the fire today, along with 14 fire engines, three dozers and five water tenders, according to a spokesperson for its incident command team.

A fact sheet issued this morning from Public Information Officer Connie Birkland lists the fire as “human caused, under investigation”. But Birkland said they still don’t know what sparked the blaze on Sunday.

“We’re just making that statement,” Birkland said. “We just know there was no lightning at the time, no obvious evidence (like something from a power line); so we’re assuming it’s human caused.”

Birkland said they have no specific information about what did cause the fire. DNR investigators are responsible for finding that out, she said.

The fire scene is on a relatively flat ridge top south of Gish Road.

Birkland said they initially reported it was 103 acres, but revised that down after the individual who measured it said it was really closer to 102 acres.

Crews continue to mop up hot spots within the fire perimeter. Fire is minimal and continues to smolder in stumps and root system.

No new fire growth is expected, a relatively thin fire line was established early on.

They’re expecting slightly cooler weather with a chance of minimal rain and possibly lightning, Birkland said.

“We’re also being told it would take quite a bit of rain to make any difference for the fire,” she said.

For background, read “Gish Road Fire: Smoldering and smoking could continue for weeks” from Tuesday August 11, 2015, here

Gish Road Fire: Smoldering and smoking could continue for weeks

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Personnel continue work to extinguish hot spots south of Gish Road. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  The Onalaska wildfire that broke out on Sunday and spread rapidly to more than 100 acres is smoldering, something that could continue for quite some time, according to officials.

Still approximately 100 firefighters with the state Department of Natural Resources are working at the scene, Public Information Officer Connie Birkland said last night.

The blaze burned what authorities initially described as a young plantation of Douglas fir and alder on private property south of the 300 block of GIsh Road, roughly five miles east of Interstate 5.

An early evacuation advisory was issued for residents in the vicinity on Sunday afternoon, but rescinded that evening. Aerial drops of retardant from jet planes were used to protect homes along the northern perimeter and also to slow the flames from spreading to the east.

“At this point, there are no structures we’re worried about,” Birkland said.

As of last night, the fire was considered 20 percent contained, meaning a sufficiently wide and extinguished strip of ground that circles the fire is only 20 percent finished.  They’ve got engines with hoses laid around the perimeter.

Crews are continuing the hard work of what they call mop up, according to Birkland.

“There’s a lot of hot, underground roots and stumps still burning,” she said, “You’re not seeing a lot of flames, you see smoke.”

No injuries have been reported or any structures burned. The cause remains under investigation.

Chief Gregg Peterson, of Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue in Napavine, who along with Lewis County Fire District 8 Chief Duran McDaniel of Salkum assisted the local fire departments’ response on Sunday said his “first-in” person pointed out yesterday morning to the investigator the spot where the fire originated .

But there weren’t other obvious clues to share about what may have started the fire, according to Peterson.

“Our people didn’t see anyone or make contact with anyone, as far as I know,” he said of the initial response.

DNR has not yet said who owns the parcels involved.

Birkland said she may have miscommunicated somewhat about the nature of the properties involved. The land holds not so much tree farms as what they call regeneration – young growth of new trees – following previous logging, she said.

Peterson said acreage-wise, it was as big of a fire as he’s ever seen in Lewis County. Chief Mike Kytta, a nearly 40-year veteran of firefighting from Centralia, said the same, according to Peterson.

McDaniel, who started firefighting as a 16-year-old said the largest he knew of was in the summer of 1983 when a fire off Winston Creek Road at Longbell Road burned 247 acres. He recalled a good-sized fire on Dodge Road out of Morton in the 1990s, but said he didn’t know its size.

The Gish Road Fire has been measured at 103 acres.

“In the last 30 years, (this) was the biggest one we’ve had, as far as I know, that was anywhere near homes,” McDaniel said.

Watching a low-flying jet drop fire retardant across the area was a rare sight, and a first for McDaniel.

“When I went to fire school, they said you’ll never see this in Western Washington,” he said.

It was just about exactly a year ago that a roughly 60-acre forest fire burned beyond Teague Road, west of Centralia. Chuck Turley, assistant manager of the Pacific Cascade Region of the state Department of Natural Resources said DNR used a plane to drop fire retardant there.

How long until the Gish Road fire is out, or how long crews will be working on it isn’t something Birkland  could easily answer.

“Even though it’s confined inside the fire perimeter right now, it can go on for weeks,” she said.

For background, read “Tree farm property burning in Onalaska” from Monday August 10, 2015, here


Property south of Gish Road smokes and smolders today. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1


The first air drop of fire retardant onto parcels near Gish Road on Sunday. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1

Tree farm property burning in Onalaska

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Looking south from Gish Road at Davis Drive at an air tanker dropping fire retardant yesterday. / Courtesy photo by Cassie Frazier

Updated at 3:29 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  A fire that ignited west of Onalaska yesterday afternoon grew into a wildfire spreading over roughly 100 acres.

No injuries have been reported or any structures burned, but several area residents were asked to leave.

“There were about 20 homes evacuated by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office yesterday afternoon,”  Chuck Turley, assistant manager of the Pacific Cascade Region of the state Department of Natural Resources said. “By the end of the day they were allowed to return home.”

Lewis County Fire District 1 was called at 2:06 p.m. for smoke showing in the area of the 300 block of Gish Road.

“By the time our unit got to Leonard and Gish roads, she started requesting District 5,” District 1 Assistant Chief Rhonda Volk said.

The initial site was approximately a quarter mile south of 382 Gish Road, according to one fire official.

A crew from District 5 was right behind her as they reached the turnoff, Volk said.

“They made access, found the fire and dumped one load of water on it,” she said. “It was obvious this was way more than we were going to be able to handle.” They backed out, she said.

They were joined by fire trucks and tenders from their own departments as well as from Salkum and rural Chehalis, and a chief from Winlock, Volk said. Help from DNR was requested right away.

“We were basically assigned for structural protection,” District 6 Firefighter Matt McCoy said. “The fire was heading in that direction when the wind shifted; the homeowner was out there with a dozer, trying to put in some fire lines.”

The chief of Onalaska’s DIstrict 1 – an all-volunteer department – was on vacation. Assistant Chief Volk was out of town and arrived later.

Volk said District 5, also known as Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue out of Napavine, took over incident command, and by the time she arrived, DNR was taking over.

She said she understood from District 5’s chief, there was a grand total of about 100 personnel working the fire by last night. DNR sent fire engines with crews as well as two helicopters to drop water, according to Turley.

“We did bring about six loads of fire retardant from air tankers, from Moses Lake,” Turley said.

Most local firefighters were released last night.

“Last night, the heat goes out of the day, the humidity comes up, and the fire starts to lay down,” Turley said this morning. “Today we expect that to reverse itself.”

By 8 p.m. yesterday, the size of the fire was estimated at 80 acres. DNR used GPS mapping during the night to measure it at 103 acres, Turley said. An investigator is trying to determine the cause.

Burning are 10 to 20-year-old trees – Douglas fir and alder – on private parcel tree farms, according to the Type Three Incident Command Team public information officers. It’s near several homes and structures.

Turley said approximately 100 personnel are fighting the fire today, and it’s not considered controlled or contained. DNR crews have been digging a fire break by hand and by bulldozer, he said.

“There’s a line around the entire fire, but its sketchy and narrow, and needs to be widened,” he said.

A Type Three Incident Command Team from northern Arizona – which was already in Washington on stand by – is taking charge of the fire today. They are currently set up at Lewis and Clark State Park.

Within the fire service, a Type Five Command Team is used for the least complicated wild fires, while a Type One Command Team is used for the most complex, according to Turley.

Gish Road is closed to non-resident traffic.


A large plume of smoke was suddenly visible from several miles east in Silver Creek yesterday afternoon. / Courtesy photo by Jenifer Poe-Couch

Local fire danger prompts more restrictions, warnings

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Not even small backyard campfires are allowed until further notice in the cities of Centralia, Chehalis and unincorporated Lewis County, as of yesterday and today. / Courtesy photo by Rhonda Volk

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Just put the marshmallow roasting sticks away for the summer.

Outdoor recreational and cooking fires are prohibited within the city limits of both Centralia and Chehalis until further notice.

Both cities made announcements yesterday afternoon, one day after a similar ban was issued for unincorporated areas of Lewis County.


Ken Cardinale

Officials are citing a high fire hazard due to the extremely parched environment.

Chehalis Fire Department Chief Ken Cardinale put it this way:

“As the Chehalis fire chief, I cannot stress enough the seriousness of the fire danger that presently exists,” Cardinale stated. “The continued dry conditions, very low fuel moistures and dry weather pattern we have been experiencing are contributing to the high fire danger.”

Brush fires have broken out, but area firefighters have been quick to keep them from burning down buildings. The dry season began earlier than usual this year, meaning vegetation is more susceptible to ignition.

The restrictions apply on both private property and public property, such as city parks.

Centralia’s went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today. Residents there are still allowed to use above ground barbecues with contained flame.

Chehalis’s is in effect now. Citizens there are permitted the use of propane or charcoal barbecues that are self contained with lids. Also, outdoor fireplaces equipped with an approved spark arrestor installed on the flue are okay, according to the city.

All three entities strongly urge residents and property owners to be attentive to the dangers and take proactive fire prevention measures.

Cardinale refers folks to the Chehalis Fire Department’s website, where information can be found on what those in the fire service refer to as creating “defensible space” around your home.

It’s a good time for some yard work, pruning, trimming and cleaning up if it hasn’t already been done.

The new fire chief also suggests anyone with questions ought to give them a call, or stop by the station.

A brush fire that broke out on Tuesday off Centralia-Alpha Road southeast of Chehalis grew to 18 acres and as of yesterday, still had more than 70 firefighters and support personnel from the state Department of Natural Resources working to extinguish hot spots.

Steve Mansfield, who oversees the Lewis County Department of Emergency Management, visited the scene yesterday morning and indicated DNR planned to remain there through the weekend to ensure it didn’t reignite or spread.

“Until this drought is over and the threat of fire is significantly diminished, be physically aware of safety around any open flames or activity that could cause an ignition of materials,” Mansfield stated.

Recent fires in Lewis and south Thurston counties have had suspected causes from such ordinary activities as lawn mowing with the blade catching a rock, haying with a tractor driving over a “wind row”, and a worn extension cord to a parked motorhome starting a grass fire.

The former sheriff noted none of us can control the weather conditions, but there are a number of steps individuals can take to reduce the risks. Basic precautions:

• Don’t throw lit materials and cigarettes out of your vehicle.
• Find alternatives to outdoor campfires and cooking.
• Refrain from driving in areas of tall grass and fields
• When operating equipment, watch for anything that can cause a spark.
• Have a fire extinguisher handy when working outdoors near sources of ignition.
• Listen to local media regarding local fire conditions and hazards
• Be proactive, the property and lives you save may be your own.

Feds: Tree thieves and mill owner indicted for trafficking specialty maple from Gifford Pinchot

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Courtesy photo by U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Three Lewis County timber cutters and a Winlock mill owner have been indicted on theft and other federal crimes in a case involving illegal harvest and selling of Big Leaf Maple, the wood from which is particularly valuable for musical instruments.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced yesterday Harold Clause Kupers, 48, owner of  J & L Tonewoods, allegedly purchased the maple knowing it was stolen and then sold it to out of state companies for more than $800,000.

The tree cutters allegedly took the specialty wood from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

“The trees in our national forests belong to all Americans and should not be chopped up to enrich a few,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes stated. “In this case a beautiful and valued resource that is home to endangered species, was felled with some parts just discarded on the forest floor.”

Charged with theft of and damaging of government property are Ryan Justice, 28, of Randle, James Miller, 36, of Morton, and Kevin Mullins, 56, of Packwood, according to authorities.

Kupers is accused of giving training and assistance to the trio on how to retrieve the wood from various sites in the forest. The men would seek out “figured maple” which is especially valuable for musical instruments, according to Hayes.

According to the indictment, between October 2011 and March 2012 the tree cutters made approximately fifty sales of illegally-harvested maple wood to Kupers for his Winlock lumber mill. They allegedly would deliver pieces of the trees to J& L Tonewoods, where it was cut into salable blocks called “billets.”

Kupers is charged with receipt of stolen property and seven violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in illegal wildlife, fish, and plants.

Justice and Miller are in custody pending detention hearings. Mullins has not yet made his initial appearance on the indictment.

Violations of the Lacey Act are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The other charges in the indictment are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Forest Service.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson.

Chehalis area wildfire knocked down but not contained

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Two helicopters drop water as dozens of firefighters on the ground work to stop a fire off Centralia-Alpha Road. / Courtesy photo by Lori Nelsen

Updated at 12:43 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A fire of unknown origin broke out southeast of Chehalis yesterday, growing to approximately 12 acres as it consumed brush and trees.

“The fire is knocked down, there’s not active fire now,” Chuck Turley, assistant manager of the Pacific Cascade Region of the state Department of Natural Resources said this morning. “We’re trying to keep it that way.”

Local firefighters called around 3 p.m. yesterday to the area roughly a half mile north of the intersection of Centralia-Alpha Road and North Fork Road headed towards a large smoke column and found a fairly large brush fire, Lewis County Fire District 6 Chief Tim Kinder said.

“We concentrated on a small farm at risk of being taken down,” Kinder said.

Crews from rural Chehalis, Napavine and Onalaska protected the small house until personnel from DNR arrived, he said.

DNR put into service more than 40 firefighters, a bulldozer and two helicopters which dropped water on the flames. A helicopter is on standby this morning.

The wind was swirling up above and constantly changing directions, Kinder said. “And it was a lot of heavy, thick brush.”

The active fire was knocked down last night and the last tender crew from Lewis County Fire District 6 was released about 7 o’clock this morning. Crews with two tenders from Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue were on the scene this morning, Kinder said.

Turley said they’ve dug a line around all but about 300 feet and consider it 60 percent contained this morning.

Fueling the blaze was standing timber as well as relatively newly planted trees, he said, with lots of blackberries and lots of salal.

It’s the third time in a week fire has sprung up on the property. Turley said his crews were out there last Tuesday and Wednesday.

“All I’ll say about that is the cause is under investigation,” he said.

Approximately 50 DNR personnel are working out there today, he said.

Turley said the lower temperatures and that the relative humidity came up overnight were helpful.

He’s expecting a four to five day reprieve with the weather and then on Tuesday it’s forecast to get very hot again, he said.

Turley said he’s not sure how much longer they will be out there.

“I would imagine it will take more than just today to get it completely controlled,” he said.

It was just last Friday when the Commissioner of Public Lands urged the public to take the utmost care not to spark fires, citing a combination of worsening conditions and the probability of multiple large fires by mid-week.

Seven active large fires are burning in the state currently, including one that broke out about 1 p.m. yesterday in Klickitat County and is already approximately 10,000 acres, according to authorities. That blaze, near the town of Roosevelt in south Central Washington called the Highway 8 Fire, is threatening 350 homes and evacuation orders have been put in place.

Several local firefighters departed yesterday evening to help out, including two from Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue, three from West Thurston Regional Fire Authority and two from Thurston County Fire District 12.

Show and tell for law enforcement and fire service personnel draws moderate crowd

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Lewis County Fire District 2 Firefighter Hadly Blankenship helped his three boys – Oliver, Kayden and Noah – into a brush truck.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

NAPAVINE – First responders.

The people on the front lines and behind the scenes when emergencies arise and someone calls 911 for help.

Representatives from Lewis County public safety agencies and organizations spent yesterday under sunny skies in a sort of show-and-tell.

For kids, it included invitations to climb behind the wheels of fire trucks, the sheriff’s office’s 48,000 pound armored SWAT and rescue vehicle and even into a shiny black and white 1940 Ford patrol car.

“These are all the people you would see if there was a large scale disaster here,” Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza said as he motioned toward those with the booths and vehicles that formed a horseshoe in the parking lot alongside Interstate 5.

The event, called First Responders Day, was held outside Bethel Church of the Assemblies of God in Napavine.

Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue, formerly known as Lewis County Fire District 5, had their extrication tools on display and hope next year to do an actual demonstration of cutting into a vehicle to get to the injured.

Lewis County Fire District 6 handed out plastic fire helmets and pencils reminding about the importance of smoke detectors. The state patrol gave out junior trooper sticker badges.

Among the demonstrations, were Sheriff’s Cmdr. Dusty Breen zapping a paper silhouette of a man with a Taser, and answering questions about how very thin wire and prongs make the connection when used.

The crowd got to watch a simulated police pursuit, complete with the “suspect” getting grabbed by a police dog after bailing out and running across a field.

Two search and rescue dogs, plus one in training, with the Lewis County-based Cascade Dogs were on hand.

Other participants included Human Response Network, the local Red Cross and the relatively new Lewis and Mason County Crime Victim Service Center. And more.

Lewis County Crime Stoppers was there to promote their program, and put together free ID kits for parents.

That was the first booth Leslie Hill of Toledo visited with her children, ages 6 and 4.

“I always get these updated every year,” Hill said, as she waited for photo identification cards, DNA swabs and fingerprints to take home.

Centralia Police Department’s SWAT team laid out the various tools of their work, including newer-style spike strips that would flatten a tire slowly if a suspect drove over it.

The four-hour event was winding down when a Life Flight helicopter and its three-person crew arrived from Longview.

“I’m pretty happy with the turnout,” organizer sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Wetzel said. He said he and other already have more ideas for next year.

A somewhat similar gathering is planned for Tuesday evening, with the Centralia Police Department’s National Night Out.

The department has traditionally participated in the nationwide annual community-police awareness-raising event by caravanning to various neighborhood Block Watch group gatherings.

This year, the department is inviting folks to come see them at Washington Park on Pearl Street from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Centralia police plan to offer opportunities to drive a golf cart wearing goggles that simulate drunk driving, and say there will be face painting, a balloon artist, a bounce house, live music and free hot dogs.


Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Dusty Breen demonstrates use of a Taser for attendees at First Responders Day in Napavine.


See lots more photos from the day on Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page

News brief: Grass fire threatens Rochester residences

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Crews work to extinguish fire on Southwest Bonnie Lane  /  Courtesy photo by West Thurston Regional Fire Authority

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

West Thurston Regional Fire Authority reports five acres burned but the flames have been extinguished with no loss to structures.

Crews were called around 11:40 a.m. to the area along Southwest Bonnie Lane near School Land Road in Rochester.

They were joined by departments from as far away as Tenino.

Six homes, outbuildings and vehicles were threatened, according to the department’s post on Facebook moments ago.

Failed double crossing drug deal ends with prison for “seller”

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015


By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 24-year-old who robbed a potential drug customer of $1,000 in Centralia last month – and kept the bag of salt he pretended was ecstasy – was sentenced today to just shy of 10 years in prison.

McRae D. Armstrong was in Lewis County Superior Court, where he pleaded guilty as charged a week after his arrest.

The incident at the end of June took place inside a car in the parking lot at Safeway on Harrison Avenue.

The Centralia Police Department had provided the money, as the buyer was a confidential informant and officers were conducting surveillance during the transaction. A short police pursuit ensued but Armstrong wasn’t located that day.

He admitted he used a firearm, and told the buyer-turned victim to get out of the car.

Armstrong pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, attempted eluding, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and  possession with intent to deliver an imitation controlled substance.

His lawyer Don Blair asked the judge for a mid-range sentence, noting his client accepted the deal basically within a day of getting the offer from the state.

“And the fact that he is here taking responsibility, literally within a week of court,” Blair said.

Pacific County Prosecutor Mark McClain recommended Armstrong be given 116 months on the first count – the top of the standard sentencing range – and lesser amounts for the other offenses to be served concurrently.

McClain was asked to handle the case, because of a potential appearance of a conflict. Armstrong’s father is a private investigator who often works on cases in Lewis County.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler gave Armstrong nine years and eight months.

The sentence also includes three years under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections when he is released and a requirement the defendant be evaluated for drug and alcohol abuse and follow through with the recommended treatment.

An 18-year-old Olympia woman has been charged in the case, as she was allegedly with Armstrong when it happened. A second male has been charged with rendering criminal assistance for allegedly helping Armstrong hide from police, according to McClain.

For background, read “Teen driver for ecstasy drug deal-turned robbery booked” from Saturday June 27, 2015, here

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigating child assault, one arrested

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Chandra M. Munsey consults with a temporary defense attorney during her bail hearing on Monday afternoon.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 22-year-old arrested on Thursday was charged yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court with two counts of second-degree child assault, in a case involving her boyfriend’s toddlers.

The two little boys were taken into protective custody after their father called police and the children were checked out at Providence Centralia Hospital and then Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, according to their father Casiano Baldovinos.

Baldovinos is standing by his girlfriend, Chandra M. Munsey, and attended her bail hearing yesterday afternoon.

“I know that Chandra’s innocent,” Baldovinos said outside the courtroom.

Authorities have revealed little about the case, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Munsey was brought before a judge on Friday afternoon, when a prosecutor asked to have the documents detailing the allegations sealed. Judge James Lawler granted the request.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead indicated he wasn’t ready to file charges, and asked that Munsey continue to be held in the jail at least until another hearing after the weekend.

Munsey was brought before the judge again yesterday afternoon, after the criminal charges were filed, where defense attorney Joely O’Rourke asked the court to consider releasing her with an unsecured or co-signed bond.

“She has absolutely no felony history, and has a stable residence in Chehalis with her boyfriend,” O’Rourke said.

Judge Lawler set her bail at $50,000.

Baldovinos said his boys, ages 2 and 3, live with him in rural Chehalis. He’s cared for the oldest one nearly all his life, and last year at this time, got the court to make their mother’s family turn the youngest over to him.

He and their mother are not together, he said.

The boys’ grandmother, Rebecca Torres of Centralia, said she’s been warning authorities something bad could happen, since the day police came to take the youngest from her home.

“I’ve been trying for a year to keep them safe,” Torres said, sobbing.

Their mother is in prison, serving a sentence of a year and day for something Torres called petty. Jessica Schroeder, 27, should be getting out next month, her mother said. But Schroeder signed her youngest over to her mother when he was five months old, Torres said.

Exactly what happened remains under investigation, but photos shared by Torres and her 17-year-old daughter on social media last week show the two-year-old with a black and swollen eye. His brother’s picture shows marks on his face as well.

Baldovinos said the children stayed a couple of nights early last week with his girlfriend’s parents, in rural Centralia. When he picked them up, Munsey’s father told him the children scuffled, and one gave the other a black eye, he said.

But he didn’t believe that, he said, and he called police.

The court document filed yesterday that charges Munsey, indicates prosecutors believe the assaults occurred between Monday and Wednesday of last week.

Second-degree child assault is a class B felony, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. The offense involves recklessly inflicting substantial bodily harm upon a child younger than 13 years old.

Munsey’s arraignment is scheduled for Thursday in Lewis County Superior Court.

Prison awaits Toledo man who tried to catch possible burglar, with gun

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Larry N. Bemrose waits in the jury box for a corrections officer to take him down to the Lewis County Jail following his sentencing.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 66-year-old Toledo resident who thought he was protecting his neighborhood when he pointed a shotgun at an 8-year-old boy and then the boy’s mother was sentenced yesterday for two felonies.

Larry N. Bemrose was arrested after the Nov. 7 incident  in the area of North Fifth Street in the South Lewis County town and charged with two counts of first-degree assault.

The woman, Finola Erickson, told police she’d just left a relative’s house in the area of Middle Crest Road and when she came to the stop sign, a pickup truck pulled a U-turn in front of her and blocked her, according to charging documents. She said a man she’d never seen before got out, approached with a rifle and pointed it at her son who was sitting in the passenger seat, and then walked around her side of the car and pointed it at her, charging documents relate.

Erickson took off in her yellow Neon and parked near Toledo High School, where she turned off her headlights to hide from the man and called 911.

It was an unfortunate incident of mistaken identity, Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead told a judge yesterday.

Halstead, the defendant and the defendant’s lawyer were in Lewis County Superior Court after striking a plea deal.

Prosecutors reduced the charged to two counts of second-degree assault, to which Bemrose pleaded guilty earlier this past spring.

“Unfortunately for him, it was a mother with her child in the vehicle,” Halstead said.

Centralia defense attorney Don Blair said his client was witness to what he thought was a burglary to a neighbor’s home and when he approached what he thought was the suspect vehicle, they “threw it in reverse” so he went and retrieved his gun.

“Unfortunately for the woman and her son, the vehicles looked similar,” Blair said.

According to charging documents, Bemrose admitted to police at the time to confronting a sport utility vehicle and a Lincoln, but denied contacting the yellow Neon.

Blair told Judge Richard Brosey that when Bemrose first learned it was a different party, he broke down and cried in Blair’s office, realizing what the woman and her child must have gone through.

The standard sentencing range for the offense is 12 to 14 months in prison. The two lawyers agreed to recommend Bemrose be sentenced to 12 months and one day.

Judge Brosey agreed, and gave Bemrose 11 days credit for time spent in the Lewis County Jail.

As Lewis County Superior Court judges customarily tell defendants when they are convicted of felonies, he explained to Bemrose he’d lost his right to possess firearms, and lost his right to vote.

When he is released, he will be under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections for 18 months.

For background, read “Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup – FROM THE COURTHOUSE” from Monday November 10, 2014, here