Coffee firefighters suspect arson - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Coffee firefighters suspect arson

May 3, 2007

Coffee County--  The Coffee County Fire and Rescue Department planned to send a crew to Atkinson County to help out with wildfires there Wednesday. Those plans changed when a series of suspicious fires broke out in their own backyard. Fire officials are pretty sure arsonists are responsible.

Two things let them know the fires were intentionally set.  One, the county currently isn't giving out permits to burn. Two, the path of the fires look as if someone just drove through and played fire starter.

Smoke Wood Road in Coffee County is now living up to it's name. "It hurts, hurts bad," said Gerald Vickers.

Smoke still rises from fires set in the early morning hours. In the evening, the Vickers are using an ATV to survey the damage near their home.

"It's very sad. It's very sad," said Vickers. Much of this property they own, now lost to hot fires and dry grounds.

"Everybody needs to be praying for rain I tell you," said Vickers. But lack of rain didn't start the fires. It's been determined that arson is the cause. Still no word on the reason.

"I ain't got a clue," said Coffee County Fire Chief Ralph Jowers, "It's just somebody I guess that didn't have anything else to do."

Jowers says a total of 10 fires were intentionally set on the west side of the county. The first started about 2 a.m. on Moore Cemetery Road. "There was four fires in this one area probably a mile and a half to two miles apart," said Jowers.

Then five more fires were started on Smoke Wood Road. "About a two mile stretch down the road," said Jowers.

By 6 a.m., firefighters had to head to yet another blaze on the East side of the county. This one at Tanner and Bob Taylor Roads. "This is the worst one of all of them," said Jowers, "it was pretty big."

It wasn't until close to the evening that the fires in the county were under control. It took the teamwork of firefighters and the Forestry Commission. "We can just the thank the good Lord we were as lucky as we were today," said Jowers.

He's thankful no one was injured and no homes in the county were damaged. The next step is to find out who did it and why. "That's right," said Jowers.

"They should be punished if they can catch them," said Vickers. There's a hope they're caught just as quickly as they left about 100 acres of burnt, smoky damage in the county.

There is now a ban on burning in Coffee County.  If the fire department is called out because of a burn taking place, a Sheriff's deputy will be with them. You will receive a ticket for illegal burning. Firefighters still aren't sure if the fire on the East side of the county was started by arsonists.

If you have any information about the arsons, call the Coffee County Sheriff's Department.  

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