A string of intentional forest fires are under investigation in Doolittle, Mo.
DOOLITTLE, Mo. (KY3) - A string of large fires, all intentionally set, is sparking the attention of neighbors and first responders in Doolittle.
An arson investigation is underway, but the Doolittle Rural Fire Protection District needs help figuring out who is behind the flames.
A blaze and plume of smoke consumed U.S. forest property between Doolittle and Newburg, starting on Nov. 24.
“When we got there, it was dark,” said Doolittle Rural Fire Protection District Chief Brandon Williams. “We could see a very large fire burning on the hillside. We knew we had a 10 or 15 plus acre fire.”
Multiple agencies helped put out the fire. Teams from Doolittle, Rolla, St. James and St. Robert were even joined by U.S. Forest Service crews.
The next day, another fire happened in the woods not too far.
“It was a very, very remote area of the National Forest so we knew it had to be started intentionally,” Williams said. “That [second fire] was completely separate from the first fire. It was in close proximity of the first fire, but completely separate. So that kind of made us go, ‘okay this has got to be 100% intentionally set.’ There was no chance of it, you know rekindling. Just because there was a pretty good forest road that separated the fires.”
Then a week later, a third a fire happened nearby.
“It ended up burning close to 70 acres of National Forest,” Williams said. “We had to put in a lot more effort than the other fires just because of where the fire was. It was probably a mile back off in the forest road down the logging trail. It was hard to get to. We had to do everything by hand, blow lines, establish fire lines, cut down snags, stuff like that.”
Even neighbors nearby saw the fires as they wrapped around the woods.
“We started smelling the smoke first I guess,” said neighbor Michelle Richmond. “And then I was like going outside looking around. I took a couple pictures. You could see it off kind of like clouds low to the ground coming in. It was a little bit scary.”
Richmond said it is very unusual to spot a fire near her family’s home.
“It’s a dead end road,” she said. “There’s only like four houses up past us. So you pretty much know who is going up and down your road. We always keep a look out for who is going up and down the road.”
Freighters and investigators say it’s clear all three were intentionally started. Williams said investigators think whoever started the fire may have done it to either scare deer and push them back towards hunters, try and clear brush for next season, or simply start a fire just to burn the area.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” he said. “Especially since you know that somebody is just going out there and lighting the woods on fire and then leaving and not caring what it’s going to do.”
Williams said several challenges still lie ahead.
”It’s almost impossible to to know who is doing it without physically catching them in the act,”he said.
That’s why he has asked for help from those living nearby.
“I actually had sent Brandon some footage today of something I saw on the camera,” Richmond said. “I was just kind of alerting him. You never know what’s going to happen. Everybody’s suspicious.”
Williams said battling these infernos has stripped away already limited resources. He said he is hopeful with the community’s help, the culprit will be caught and the blazes come to an end.
The U.S. Forest Service is investigating. Williams said his team is asking anyone nearby with cameras to help in their search for answers.
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