Authorities suspect arsonist started forest fires

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

DECATUR TOWNSHIP - Five small forest fires in the Wayne National Forest over the weekend appear to be the work of an arsonist or arsonists, forestry personnel say.

Four of the fires were located early Sunday. A fifth fire, apparently started after someone set a car on fire, was discovered late Sunday in nearby Symmes Township.

"It looks like they were intentionally set," WNF spokesperson Dan Kincaid said. "All of them were within about a mile or so of each other. It was pretty suspicious. It looks like we might have an arsonist."

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The fires were located in the early morning hours Sunday after a citizen called 911.

Kincaid said the fires were located approximately 1 mile west of the Dean State Forest, just off State Route 93. The area is approximately 10 to 12 miles north of Ironton, in air miles.

"They were kind of in a north-south pattern, so they probably set them as they moved north," Kincaid said.

Because the fires were set at night when the wind was calm, they smoldered slowly over night preventing them from moving much during the night, Kincaid said.

"We jumped on them before it got real dry and real hot," Kincaid said. "It could have turned real bad."

Fortunately, expert help was nearby to snuff out the fires quickly.

"Luckily we had a hot shot crew in here," Kincaid said. "They had been up in Athens helping us with some controlled burning."

Twenty persons from the Ashville (N.C.) Hot Shots crew and a small crew from the Monongahela National Forest assisted Wayne personnel and local volunteer fire departments on the fires.

"It was quite a flurry of activity and the fire danger is really high," Kincaid said. "It's really dry and we've had decent winds in the last few days. So it's particularly high fire danger and it will be for a while, until we get quite a bit of rain."

One of the three fires had burned itself out before fire crews arrived early Sunday. Two of the fires were contained to approximately an acre. One of the fires reached approximately two acres.

Sunday night's fire in Symmes Township was also contained to approximately one acre, Kincaid said.

No one was injured in the blazes, Kincaid said, but one vacant house on private property was burned down.

The region in which the fires were set is an area in which the federal land is interspersed with lots of private land.

The five weekend fires follow several more that have been found within the Wayne National Forest in recent weeks. Several of them also seem to have been intentionally set, Kincaid said.

Anyone with information about the fires is asked to call the Wayne National Forest at (740) 534-6541.

"If there's someone setting these, it would be nice if we could catch them," Kincaid said. "Anyone who calls can remain anonymous if they wish."

Even though these fires appear to be intentionally set, Kincaid said accidental fires are also a worry during this time of year.

"For those people who may be out in the woods or just driving along, be very, very careful with cigarettes and matches," Kincaid said.

Burning is restricted all across the state - even on private land - from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Even after those hours a burn permit is required.

"There's always the danger that these fires get set in the wrong place and burn down someone's house or a barn or something," Kincaid said.

The Lawrence County Sheriff's Office and federal arson investigators are working the case. Kincaid said he was unsure whether or not the suspicious fires were related.