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Birthday party bonfire with vehicle, trailer, leads to $4,500 DNR fine for Charles City-area man

Birthday party bonfire with vehicle, trailer, leads to $4,500 DNR fine for Charles City-area man
A car and trailer were burned at a party southeast of Charles City in September 2022, resulting in the property owner being fined $4,500, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa DNR photo
by Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch

A birthday party and swap meet in northern Iowa last year resulted in a $4,500 fine for its host after photographic and video evidence revealed that partygoers burned a car as part of the festivities, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“It was a fine party until they lit the car on fire,” said Daniel Watterson, a environmental specialist for the DNR who investigated the incident.

Video of the event shows a large crowd gathered at Cody Ritter’s acreage southeast of Charles City for a variety of vehicular activities that culminated in someone driving a Buick car up a shallow earthen ramp into the side of a trailer. Moments later, the video — a link to which was provided by the DNR — shows the trailer, car and other debris aflame.

“You bring any marshmallows?” said someone who was filming the scene. “Tastes like Buick.”

Ritter had been warned about illegal fires in early September by the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office after he advertised the event online, a recent DNR order said.

The DNR obtained evidence after the Sept. 24 party from internet postings that showed the trailer and car had been burned, which is illegal.

The department tried to contact Ritter in early October about the incident, the report said.

“Mr. Ritter called DNR later that same day and said he thought the trailer could be burned since he cleaned it out after receiving the open burning rules,” the DNR order said. “He claimed to have removed the railroad ties from the burn pile as well and stated that he did not burn any tires. He stated that a ‘car may have got a little hot.’”

The video and at least one photo show the car engulfed in flames.

Ritter could not be reached to comment for this article, but he addressed the DNR fine in a Facebook post on Jan. 6: “I ask of you folks to be ready for September 23rd. We’re doing it again. Minus burning a car or anything within the packet of ‘do not burn’ handed to me per the state of Iowa of course. I have had it with the narc narcissistic neighbor across the road. Burnouts till sunrise. Louder the better.”

Ritter disposed of the remaining debris from the fire in November, the DNR order said.

– Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. 

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