Burning Ceremony Cut Short

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LOWELL, Ore. — A Lowell man, who was trying to honor his son in a Native American mourning ceremony, says firefighters ended it before he could finish, but firefighters say they were just doing their job.

It’s been just over a year since Jack Devereaux lost his son Garrett and when the anniversary of his death rolled around, Devereaux felt it was finally time to give him a proper goodbye. Devereaux says he’s spent the last year, keeping his family afloat and in the process, he reconnected with his Native American heritage. So, he really wanted to hold a special burning ceremony in Garrett’s honor.

Devereaux says Sunday seemed like the perfect opportunity, “The sun came out and I thought, ‘Wow, this would be a really great time.'” But, he says things didn’t turn out quite as he had hoped, since the Lowell Fire Department barged in and put a stop to it.

“I can’t explain it other than February 2nd, a year ago, I got a phone call and it was the worst phone call I ever got and I just feel like on Sunday I relived it,” says Devereaux.

But while Lowell Fire Department Chief Keith Hoehn says he understands Devereaux wanting to honor his son, they were never notified and there were violations they couldn’t ignore including a very large fire on commercial property, at night, with prohibited burning materials.

Hoehn says, “We got the initial call at 7:53 in the evening of a possible structure fire…If we would have had any kind of evidence that this was a true ceremonial process, we would’ve done what we could’ve at the time to finish the ceremony.”

Devereaux says, “The reason I’m telling this story is because I want people to be educated, but most of all I want people to respect each other for who they are and what they are.”

The agency insists they weren’t discriminating against Devereaux saying they would’ve handled the situation the same with anyone, because it’s their job to put safety first.

And they advise Devereaux and others to contact local fire agencies before performing such ceremonies or any open burning to prevent situations like this.

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  1. Keith Hoehn says:

    It is unfortunate that Mr. Deveroux and the KEZI news reporter that did the report on his complaint choose to sensationalize the issue rather than look at the facts and true issues that surround the incident. Some key information was not provided to the public in the account of the incident that I would like to pass on.

    The first issue is that the fire did not occur on Mr. Deveroux’s property. The fire was started on a privately owned commercial building sight in the heart of Lowell. The property that was the site of the fire is owned and occupied by a local business man, who has invested a significant amount of time, effort and money to renovate and improve the property. The building has been much improved through this renovation and has become a source of great pride in the community. Upon contact, the property owner stated the he was not aware of any fire and did not give permission for any such fire.

    Secondly, the pile of debris that Mr. Deveroux ignited for his ceremony was approximately 30 feet by 30 feet by 6 foot high. Most ceremonial fires are much smaller is size and makeup. The debris pile contained not only berry bush and woody material, but also plastic, painted wood and building materials that when burned, release noxious and toxic smoke, and is prohibited by Lane Regional Air Protection Agency as a health hazard. Due to burning this material at night, the smoke traveled to the west of the property and then covered a residential area of town, not able to rise into the upper atmosphere. The way the smoke layed down created a health hazard for nearby homes. Additionally, the fire brands, and ash generated from the burn pile was landing near and on the newly remodeled building to the west of the burn pile. This created a significant fire hazard to the building and surrounding property.

    Thirdly, the fire was not extinguished by fire department personnel until Mr. Deveroux indicated that his ceremony was done and “go ahead and put it out”. Mr. Deveroux indicated that the ceremony included placing some of his sons ashes in the fire so that his spirit could be lifted to the heavens and this portion of the ceremony was completed prior to fire personnel arrival.

    At numerous times during the incident, efforts were made to provide Mr. Deveroux with much safer and appropriate methods for honoring his son’s memory with another ceremonial fire at a different location and time. Mr. Deveroux was always treated with the utmost respect and empathy for his wishes and the memory of his son. Mr. Deveroux was provided information concerning methods for obtaining appropriate authorization for holding a ceremonial fire and offered assistance in completing the process, which is very easy and simple to accomplish. Mr. Deveroux admitted that he had not contacted his local fire department and that should have been his first step.

    Again, it is unfortunate that Mr. Deveroux’s son’s memory and his expression of grief for the loss of his son ended as it did. However, the fire department is not only tasked with the safety and welfare of the individual, but the entire community as a whole. Mr. Deveroux’s actions clearly had a significant impact on the entire community. I am proud to say that the citizens of Lowell are very respectful of the individual’s rights as well as the rights of their community. So is its Fire District. We are proud of our respectful, compassionate and empathetic community and we hope that everyone can look at this incident as a learning opportunity. There is a mechanism in place to accommodate such ceremonies. It’s not complicated and generally managed in a timely and respectful manner. The lesson to be learned from this incident is to look to your local fire officials for assistance before taking action. These officials generally have a number of safe and effective methods to accommodate most thoughtful and realistic requests, and would be happy to help.

    Keith L. Hoehn, Fire Chief

    Lowell Rural Fire Protection District

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