Texas Forest Service officials say East Texas forests targeted by arsonists

Mahlon Hammetter, Fire Prevention Specialist
Mahlon Hammetter, Fire Prevention Specialist
David Colton, Asst. Chief of Texas Forest Service Law Enforcement Division
David Colton, Asst. Chief of Texas Forest Service Law Enforcement Division

By Morgan Thomas - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Since January, East Texas firefighters have battled over 600 blazes with 94 of those set by arsonists.

"That's about 14% of the fires, but about 33% or one third of the acres burned," said Mahlon Hammetter, Fire Prevention Specialist with the Texas Forest Service.

That's more than three thousand acres of destruction which has ignited the Texas Forest Service's determination to stop more from burning.

"It's not something you can go throw a match out and see what fun you're going to cause. It could land you in prison," said Hammetter.

Every single fire puts people, property and our natural resources at risk.  However, wildland arson is especially troublesome.

"It can be any wildland space that doesn't belong to them and they'll do it knowingly and intentionally," said David Colton, Asst. Chief, Texas Forest Service, Law Enforcement Div.

A frightening consequence of an intentionally started fire happens when a firefighter is killed or injured as they're trying to put them out. Yet, their lives aren't the only thing at stake, so are firefighting resources.

"It takes them away from what their major duties are - the volunteers and the paid fighters - to protect the structures and people's personal property," said Colton.

They depend on citizens calling law enforcement immediately. Colton says it's essential to catching the perps.

"Unlike a structure fire where you can come back and work the scene and evidence will still stay, mother nature takes care of a lot - it could rain, wind could start blowing," said Colton.

The odds are stacked against fire investigators.  The dry weather is only making their work harder.

Investigators are using several indicators to rule a fire, arson. Things like easy access to the location, and eliminating other causes like burning debris or pasture burn-off.

Officials have set up an arson hotline, if you know anything call 1-800-364-3470.

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