PALOMINAS — Palominas Fire Chief Mark Matthews has resigned due to health issues, not an investigation into a series of brush fires that happened earlier this year, board president Robert Montgomery confirmed Monday.
Matthews started as fire chief in November 2014, and under his administration, with board support, the district reversed its fortunes. Prior to Matthews and interim chief Steve Abel, Palominas Fire District Board meetings were often settings for heated arguments, making the district a target of ire from state and local officials and the focus of concern for local residents.
Matthews is headed back to Oregon, Montgomery said Monday, where he will rejoin family members. The outgoing chief is undergoing treatment for cancer symptoms, he said.
Matthews has more than 34 years in public safety service starting in Oregon, where he worked for 25 years, before coming to Arizona.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as a district and where things are headed,” Montgomery said.
He said the district will now begin the process of reviewing applications for its fire chief opening.
Montgomery also confirmed that Palominas Fire District employees and board members are the subject of an investigation by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department.
“We know about it, but at this time it’s an ongoing investigation and we’re still looking at it,” he said.
Carol Capas, spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department, said the agency is investigating a series of brush fires that occurred earlier this year. She said a sheriff’s detective has interviewed members of the Palominas fire department, including several board members.
“At this time, we’re still investigating,” Capas said.
On Jan. 12, Palominas firefighters were dispatched to five fires of a suspicious nature within one hour. Louis Marabelli, assistant fire chief, said all the fires measured between one-tenth acre and a half acre and were quickly extinguished, thanks to a light wind and the high moisture content of the brush. The sheriff’s department was called in to investigate afterward, Marabelli reported.
Capas said the cause of the fires has not yet been determined.