Chico Fire douses couch burning string

Robert Engels

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Remnants of a burnt couch on the corner of W. Seventh and Ivy Streets, Saturday Sept. 13. Photo credit: John Domogma

Chico State students have a tradition of burning couches on the street which can be dangerous and considered a felony.

A couch that caught on fire at a residence in the back of the Sigma Chi fraternity house off West Fourth and Ivy Streets damaged the exterior walls and nearly consumed the entire house, according to Rick Doane, fire inspector from the Chico Fire Department.

“Had someone been home that night, they would have been trapped by the fire,” Doane said.

The fire department wants to change this behavior and students are key to making this happen.

Chico Fire-Rescue would like to engage students to change the culture of lighting couches on fire, said Aaron Lowe, division chief of training and safety.

Since the start of the semester, approximately 35 couches have been burned on the streets of Chico, according to the Chico Fire Department. Since January, there has been more than 70 couch burnings.

“’This is Chico, we’re supposed to burn couches’ – that’s not what we want to hear,” Doane said. “Where the change is really going to happen is when someone within the group that is starting a fire steps in and says, ‘This is not all right.’”

Furniture burnings in the streets has always been illegal, he said. With the increased number of couch burnings just this year, Chico is ramping up their law enforcements.

The first citation would be $300 and can range up to $1,200 with multiple offenses.

Any neglected fire that causes damage is considered arson and can be punished as a misdemeanor, according to the California Health and Safety Code.

Arson that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in state prison for five to nine years, according to the California penal code.

Doane said anybody attempting to start fires and claiming they didn’t realize the gravity of the situation they created won’t get sympathy from the fire department.

The fire department plans on tackling the problem with what Lowe calls a “three-pronged attack.”

First, the city wants to change the way students look at these events by proactively engaging with students to be responsible for their peer’s actions.

Second, the fire department wants to educate the Chico community to look out for and discourage this behavior.

Third, the Chico Fire-Rescue will be equipping fire investigators with the appropriate techniques to effectively prosecute the cases.

Robert Engels can be reached at: [email protected] or @sullayyy on Twitter.

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