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Washington man torches bee nest in his birdhouse, faces up to a year in jail, he says

A torched birdhouse on a man’s property in Centralia, Washington, could land him a $10,000 fine and a year in jail, he says.

Matt Buchanan, 42, was arrested on second-degree reckless burning charges after deputies and firefighters responded to a fire report at his home June 4 and discovered that Buchanan had set fire to a bubblegum pink birdhouse in his yard to drive away bees nesting inside, according to a Lewis County Sheriff’s Office incident report.

It’s just so unbelievable,” Buchanan told KIRO Radio of the charge. “I have no idea why they chose to take it this far.”

Buchanan has appeared in court four times and has been offered a plea deal of six months probation and a required fire safety class — and if Buchanan doesn’t take the deal, he faces a jury trial that could result in a year in jail and a fine of $10,000, KIRO Radio reported.

“It’s a charge that’s one step below a felony,” Buchanan told KIRO TV in an interview, adding that hiring a lawyer to defend him in court will cost $5,000. “I’ve never had anything at all on my record, and I don’t want this on my record.”

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A Centralia, Washington, man cited with reckless burning for torching his birdhouse bee nest said he faces up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Lewis County Sheriff's Office

The incident started with a neighbor dialing 911 after incorrectly thinking the birdhouse blaze was Buchanan’s house on fire, which Buchanan said was understandable considering the neighbor’s perspective relative to his house, KIRO radio reported.

Deputies and firefighters responded to Buchanan’s home shortly before midnight, where they saw the charred birdhouse but “could not determine how the birdhouse caught fire,” deputies wrote in an incident report. Local police thought it could be arson, and deputies noted in the report that “the birdhouse was almost completely black and burned up.”

Hoping to speak with someone about the burned birdhouse, authorities knocked on Buchanan’s doors and windows and shined flashlights in his home “until someone eventually got up out of the bed after several minutes,” deputies wrote.

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

Buchanan answered the door, telling the officers that he lived at the home with his girlfriend and that he had been drinking alcohol which “could have been why it was difficult to wake him up,” deputies said.

Buchanan told authorities he had “put paper inside the birdhouse and used the torch to light the paper on fire,” adding that “he had a garden hose right next to the birdhouse and had sprayed the whole thing down before lighting it on fire,” deputies said.

Deputies said that Buchanan “also stated he didn’t think it was that big of a deal because it was ‘just a birdhouse.’”

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Firefighters told Buchanan that his fire methods amounted to reckless burning and said “the fire from the birdhouse was threatening the fence nearby and the field on the other side of the fence” as well as the house, according to the incident report.

“I observed the birdhouse was indeed very close to a wooden fence, large hay field, and the side of the house,” a deputy wrote in the report. “Buchanan tried arguing by saying he had the hose right there nearby. I told (him) the hose was pointless if he was not present to use the hose on the fire, and advised it took a very long time to wake him up.”

Deputies said a torch was found near the birdhouse.

Buchanan told KIRO TV that the bees had been stinging his girlfriend and that he resorted to setting the birdhouse on fire after bug sprays failed.

“It was around 10 p.m. and it was not smoldering, no smoke, no steam, nothing at all,” Buchanan told the TV station.

The birdhouse cost $10, KIRO TV reported.

“It turned into such a joke,” Buchanan told the TV station. “A lot of people had a lot of fun with it, and now it’s to the point where it’s not funny anymore.”

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.
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