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Centralia man faces year in jail, $10K fine for burning birdhouse on property

The birdhouse-turned-hornet-nest to which Matt Buchanan set fire. (Lewis County Sheriff's Office)

A Centralia man thought he found a clever way to get rid of hornets when he burned a birdhouse on his property — but now he faces a potential jury trial, 364 days in jail, and a $10,000 fine.

Matt Buchanan, 42, was excited about the new house and six acres of land he and his girlfriend bought in rural Centralia, except for one problem — his girlfriend kept getting stung by hornets in the backyard. The pesky wasps had made their nest in a birdhouse on a four-and-a-half-foot pole on the property.

When spraying the birdhouse made no difference, Buchanan decided to burn a paper towel inside of it to kill the hornets. This was back in June, a wetter month when there was no burn ban in place.

He stayed nearby as the birdhouse burned, and made sure to completely extinguish the fire by filling the birdhouse with water and hosing it down before going to bed around 10 p.m.

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“Right at midnight, we woke up to sirens, lights, spotlights coming in the window, people beating on the window screaming, yelling,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

Eleven firefighters and four police officers showed up at his door that night. It turned out that Buchanan’s nearest neighbors had called 911, mistakenly believing the birdhouse fire to be his house on fire. Buchanan said that the angle from their largest window could give this impression.

After he explained this to the first responders, however, the matter was not over. Instead, he was issued with a criminal citation for second-degree reckless burning and told that “it was complete negligence — it was poor judgment to use fire to kill hornets.”

“The fire from the birdhouse was threatening the fence nearby and the field on the other side of the fence, let alone the house itself,” the report from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office states.

At first, Buchanan said, what he saw as the overreaction by law enforcement was humorous. As things went on, however, it became less and less of a laughing matter.

“It’s just so unbelievable … I have no idea why they chose to take it this far,” he said.

Buchanan, who previously had no criminal record, has now been to court four times. If he accepts the plea bargain he has been offered, he’ll get slapped with six months of probation and a mandatory fire safety course. If not, he’ll go on trial before a jury, and face a year in jail, a $10,000 fine, and at least $5,000 in legal representation.

Because of how expensive the trial route would be, Buchanan plans to agree to the plea deal — but he feels like he’s “been bullied into accepting [it].” He finds the costs incurred so far by the frequent court dates to be government showing a callous disregard for tax dollars.

“I was just appalled that they would waste taxpayers’ time and money,” he said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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