Unexplained fires spreading across county

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Area fire departments have responded to an unusually high number of abandoned structure, hay barn and grass fires in Barry County over the last month, said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly.

"People are very upset and nervous," said Epperly. "The structures are abandoned, but they are land markers that belonged to local residents for many years."

Last month, the Jenkins Fire Department and other Barry County fire departments battled structural and grass fires across the northeastern section of Barry County.

"The fires have mostly been around the Wheelerville area," said Epperly. "They have been in a radius of 10 to 15 miles off of Highway PP east of Wheelerville to Highway EE. Some of the fires have been in Stone County also."

On Oct. 3, the Jenkins Fire Department responded to a structural and grass fire. Other local fire departments also responded to at least four structural and hay fires on the same evening, said Leon Barnes, Jenkins Fire Department chief.

"The next Saturday we battled a barn fire," said Barnes. "Then a week ago Sunday, a hay barn near Star City burned also."

Although a cause for the fires has not been determined, Barnes and Epperly both believe the blazes have been set intentionally.

"We have extra patrols in the area as much as we can," said Epperly. "I've been patrolling the area myself some nights. We are trying to catch the people that are doing this."

Many local property owners have started nightly neighbor-hood watch patrols, said Barnes. Farm and ranch owners who have a large amount of hay on their property are especially concerned about the recent number of fires.

"These structures and hay surpluses have been a total loss," said Epperly. "By the time the property owner is aware of the fire, the structure is completely engulfed in flames."

Epperly encourages any individual with information to contact his office at 847-6556.

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