SOUTH WEBER, Davis County — A man arrested and accused of setting his neighbor’s fence on fire admits he made a “dumb mistake,” but doesn’t believe what he did constitutes arson.
Mathew Jacob Chappell, 38, was booked into the Davis County Jail Monday for investigation of arson after his neighbor’s fence caught fire while Chappell was burning weeds on his property at 3 a.m.
Officers noted in a police affidavit that Chappell was unsure how the fence caught fire, that he had apparently been drinking and that he has a contentious relationship with the neighbors. Chappell told the Deseret News on Tuesday that everything he told police was true. He said he can only speculate as to how the fence caught fire, but insisted that it was not on purpose.
“I am not without fault or responsibility,” he said, while adding, “I did not commit arson.”
Chappell said because he typically works long days, he doesn't have time to do chores during the day. And when he gets home from work, he usually can’t sleep. Chappell said that’s why he decided to start getting rid of the tall, dead weeds in his backyard in the middle of the night.
Chappell said he hosed down his side of the wooden fence, but did not spray water on his neighbor’s side of the fence. He believes that an ember from the weeds he was burning possibly went onto his neighbor’s property and that’s how the fire started.
According to the South Weber fire marshal, it was determined “based on the evidence and burn pattern, the fire started on the neighbor’s side of the property and burned back towards Mathew’s property. Although Mathew said he was burning weeds, there were no burnt weeds or burn marks near the point of fire origin. When questioned why there were not any burnt weeds where he said he was burning the weeds, he said he could not explain it,” the affidavit states.
Chappell, however, insists he was burning weeds, just not on his neighbor’s side of the yard. He said he actually jumped over the fence once the fire started to try and put it out and had to be treated at a local hospital for a broken ankle after jumping back onto his property.
The arresting officer also noted that Chappell had a “significant odor of alcohol” on his breath and that “his girlfriend admitted he had been drinking a significant amount tonight and had multiple drinks.”
Chappell admits he had three or four beers earlier in the evening, but denied being intoxicated at the time of the fire or that his girlfriend made any such statements.
As for the 11 minutes that elapsed from the time the fire started to when 911 was called, Chappell said it was because his girlfriend took time to look up the fire department’s number directly rather than calling 911 right away.
He also disputed the portion of the affidavit that says there was a “significant amount of damage to the neighbor’s fence and house siding that was estimated around $3,000.” Chappell does not believe the siding was damaged.
No formal criminal charges had been filed in the case as of Tuesday afternoon.