STERLING TOWNSHIP — Fire crews responded to a house fire in Wayne County early Friday morning and came face to face with the property owner who admits to starting it, but says he had permission to do so.
Charles Gifford called the 911 center in Wayne County twice to let officials know he would be conducting a controlled burn. But when a structure fire was reported in that same area, fire crews were sent to check it out and the controlled burn controversy began.
Firefighters doused what’s left of this house in Sterling Township, a fire the property owner admits to setting himself.
Fire Chief Pete Mulcahy says his crews were called out for this house fire, but when they arrived the owner said he had the permits to burn it.
“They obtained a demolition permit, but as far as I know, that does not allow you to burn a building in place in the state of Pennsylvania anymore. So there’s definitely issues,” said Greene-Dreher Volunteer Fire Association Chief Pete Mulcahy.
Charles Gifford owns the property and says he wanted to clear an old home and build new.
“There’s a lot of trespassing,” said Gifford. “I had equipment in a trailer that got stolen. It’s a hazard.”
That’s where things get dicey. Gifford obtained a permit from Sterling Township to demolish the home. Supervisors say they gave them the OK to burn it down.
“We had them call 911, with a controlled burn which they did, and we issued the permit because everything was secure, it was only old wood. That’s all that was there,” said Sterling Township Supervisor Melvin Wheeler.
DEP now says this burn was illegal, only the state can give permission for a burn like this, frustrating Gifford and his family who thought they went by the books.
“You make every attempt you could to get it done right, you make the calls, what’s next? I got approvals from everybody. I can’t do anything more,” said Gifford.
“You try to go through all the channels, do everything right, and this is what happens,” said the property owner’s father Chuck Gifford.
Township officials didn’t believe this burn would turn into a heated issue.
“We wouldn’t have issued the permit if we thought we were in the wrong,” said Wheeler.
Now DEP is sifting through what’s left, trying to determine exactly who’s to blame.
DEP officials say the property owner will likely receive a notice of violation and be fined for this fire. Right now, they’re not sure if the township will face any consequences as well.