Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Washington Prison Official Tagged for Fire

In the summer of 1996, a wildfire consumed 3,000 acres and destroyed eight homes in a sparsely developed area about five miles north of the Airway Heights Correctional Center. Now the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has presented Delbert and LaVaughn Nuner a $1.2 million bill to pay for the cost of extinguishing the wildfire.

Delbert Nuner, who is employed at the Airway Heights prison, and his wife avoided reporters. A young man who answered the door at the couple's home told reporters they didn't want to talk about the fire.

"We'll just let the attorneys and lawyers talk about it and handle it that way," he told reporters. "They don't want everybody to find out about this."

According to a 122-page investigation report released by the DNR, the 1996 wildfire was ignited by smoldering debris which blew out of a 55-gallon drum into a patch of dry grass behind the couple's home. The resulting fire burned out of control for nearly four days. More than 570 firefighters from throughout Washington were mobilized to battle the blaze, which was whipped by hot winds exceeding 30 mph.

Nuner and his wife, who local papers identified as being 'employed locally," may also be liable for damage to private property. In addition to the six houses and two mobile homes that burned down, dozens of sheds, garages, barns and other outbuildings were destroyed. The Nuners' house was not damaged.

Todd Starzel, the Nuner's attorney told reporters that his clients "are good people who feel terrible" about what happened. He added, however: "They're not accepting responsibility. They're not denying responsibility."

DNR officials said an outdoor burning ban was in effect at the time of the blaze, and a safe zone of bare soil had not been cleared around the drum as required by law. The report also concluded that the barrel was sitting on combustible material and was within 50 feet of buildings, also violations.

A PLN correspondent imprisoned at Airway Heights reports that shortly after the blaze Nuner was promoted by the DOC to the position of "Custody Unit Supervisor."

"Mr. Nuner was promoted right after burning eight separate families out of their possessions and homes," writes PLN 's correspondent. "Now if this isn't Karma, I don't know what is. A DOC employee being sued by the DNR for $1.2 million, not to mention numerous insurance companies pursuing claims against him for all of the families he torched out."

Bill Fisher, a DNR investigator, said the couple will not face criminal charges for the illegal burning. Fisher said Spokane County prosecutors decided not to pursue the case because of their heavy caseload.

Spokesman Review

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login