Former 911 dispatcher, firefighter arrested for arson in WNF

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Gallia County man said he set fires because of ‘depression’

COLUMBUS — A former Gallia County 911 dispatcher and volunteer fire fighter has been arrested for setting 24 arson fires in the Wayne National Forest, fires he told investigators that he set “to distract him from his depression.”

On Dec. 20, James A. Bartels, 50, of Patriot, was arrested and appeared in federal court in Columbus.

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Bartels is an administrator at the Greenfield Township Volunteer Fire Department. He also served as a 911 dispatcher for Gallia County.

According to an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Ohio Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officers observed a truck registered to Bartels near Wayne National Forest on Oct. 29. Bartels was observed on Dry Ridge Road. Within an hour, a fire was reported in the forest near Dry Ridge Road and Cauley Creek Road.

In the days after Bartels’s Nov. 8 resignation from working as a 911 dispatcher for Gallia County, at least 17 fires were lit.

Bartels was seen at two separate locations in the vicinity of multiple fire starts within minutes of their ignition.

The affidavit details that in a law enforcement interview, Bartels admitted to starting the fires with a lighter to “give the boys something to do” and to distract himself from depression.

He identified 24 arson fires for which he was responsible. His truck’s infotainment system data also placed him at the locations of the fires.

Bartels is schedule for a preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court on Jan. 3 in Columbus.

Willfully committing arson is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Lee Stewart, Forest Supervisor for the Wayne National Forest, thanked all the firefighters, law enforcement officers and resource specialists who responded in the forest’s time of need.”

“I also want to thank the members of the local communities for their patience and assistance throughout the fall fire season, Stewart said. “Their support aided and motivated the Forest Service staff and partners who responded to the many wildfires during this challenging season.”

A criminal complaint merely contains allegations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.