Firefighters accused in arsons

Firefighters accused in arsons

10 November 2008

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USA — One former and two current firefighters have been charged with setting wildland fires in Knox and Pike counties.

Thursday night, state police arrested 20-year-old James Allen Yeager of Gray and charged him with setting fires in the Coldstone community of Knox County. On Friday, Kentucky State Police also arrested 23-year-old Walter D. Brown of Bimble.

According to a press release, Det. Josh Bunch with KSP Post 10 in Harlan received a tip from the Knox County Sheriff’s Department about a suspicious subject seen in the area after a wildland fire was started in the Valentine Branch area of Knox County. The investigation led officers to Brown, who was interviewed and arrested. Brown was charged with one count of wildland arson, a class D felony.

Police later discovered that Brown was a former Kentucky Division of Forestry employee who served as an emergency firefighter last year before being dismissed.

Brown is the third suspect with ties to the KDF to be charged in the last two days for wildland arsons.

Division of Forestry Director Leah MacSwords said Allen Yeager had worked as an emergency firefighter since February.

Also on Friday, 30-year-old Christopher C. Little — a then-active KDF firefighter — was arrested for alleged arson in Pike County. On Friday morning, forestry officials received reports from local residents of a KDF employee setting fires in the Helliar community of Pike County. Kentucky State Police responded and arrested Little, who had been employed by KDF since Oct. 16.

Both Yeager and Little have since been “dismissed” from their duties as paid, seasonal firefighters, according to a release from KDF.

“We thank the public for alerting us to this incident,” MacSwords said. “We want to ask our citizens to continue to report suspicious activity to us, even if it appears to be a firefighter.”

Knox County Deputy District Court Clerk Kathy Blevins said she had no information concerning an attorney for Yeager.

Pike County jail supervisor Mark Cantrell said he had no information concerning an attorney for Little.

“We are outraged that firefighters may have deliberately started fires,” MacSwords said. “We will move swiftly to ensure the integrity of our firefighting force.”

She said the division, which hires 300 to 400 temporary firefighters every year, is cooperating fully with the investigation.

MacSwords praised the Kentucky State Police for its cooperation in investigating the incidents, as well as the Office of Inspector General in the Energy and Environment Cabinet.

“I want to emphasize that the Division of Forestry employs 300 to 400 firefighters every year,” MacSwords said. “The vast majority of them perform their jobs with skill, bravery and dedication. These recent events involving only a couple of employees should not detract from the outstanding record of accomplishment of these hundreds of hard-working employees.”

MacSwords said there have been almost 1,400 fires in Kentucky this year that have burned more than 32,000 acres.

Officials said a possible motive for the fires was not yet known.

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