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Despite strict ban, burning persists at property linked to WBR Parish president and his family

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ADDIS - Two fires burning simultaneously in Addis happened on properties connected to the sons of West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley 'Pee Wee' Berthelot, he told WBRZ Monday.

Residents who did not want to go on camera questioned why no citations were issued for a violation of the burn ban.

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Sunday night, the West Baton Rouge Fire Department and several fire departments from surrounding parishes worked to contain and extinguish the flames. Residents were asked to avoid the area.

Berthelot told the WBRZ Investigative Unit that the property belongs to one of his sons and several other owners. The fire was started by a caretaker of the property.

"He had an opportunity and was trying to pile it up and burn it, but he's been doing it for several months," Berthelot said. "It hadn't been a problem. But, it continues to get drier and drier."

Berthelot said he got the call last night about the fire that had started spreading. Monday, we found another area where flames were still visible. He says his sons own that piece of property, and they use it to burn parish trash at no cost to the parish.

Berthelot said when a burn ban was announced to include no more agricultural burning last week, the parish stopped burning. He said the flames we saw still burning Monday were from last week. That property is listed to Berthelot Ranch LLC. The parish president said he owns the property across the road, Berthelot Investments LLC. Berthelot said the fire where the parish burns trash is not his. However, both businesses share the same address.

Residents we talked to in Addis did not want to show their face but say this is quite typical: a "rules for thee and not for me" mentality.

"I'd be put in jail," one Addis resident said. "It's not fair to the public, and he doesn't have any more rights than anyone else."

WBRZ asked Berthelot to address this resident's concerns.

"I don't agree with them," Berthelot said. "Probably those people don't understand the whole situation of it. If any of those people would like for me to take them in the back, I'd be more than glad to."

Berthelot said he's not expecting his sons or him to get a citation.

WBRZ checked with the State Fire Marshal's Office. It was not made aware of the fire that was set on properties connected to the parish president. It's important to note, Berthelot recently hired former State Fire Marshal Butch Browning as the West Baton Rouge Parish Fire Chief.

"If we get a citation, we will do whatever we have to to take care of it," Berthelot said. "I don't expect that to be an issue."

The State Fire Marshal's office said citations are issued for anyone violating the ban. That can be escalated to an arrest if there's property damage.


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