Smoke billows onto I-530 northbound traffic, between mile markers 27 and 24, Tuesday morning as firefighters from White Hall and Redfield spent the morning extinguishing wildfires in the vicinity. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Ralph Fitzgerald)
Hardin, Redfield and White Hall volunteer firefighters devoted several hours Tuesday to extinguishing a rash of fires along Interstate 530, some of which may have been ignited by an arsonist, officials said.
After several days of above-average temperatures, stout winds and no rain, Jefferson County is under a wildfire alert, but Redfield Fire Chief Dennis McFatridge believes someone may have started a couple of the blazes in the Redfield area.
“We’ve been busy with fires near the 24 and 25 mile markers since about 10:30 this morning, but we’ve got everything under control, at least for the time being,” McFatridge said about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. “We’ve had them on both sides of 530, off of the interstate near the edge of the woodline, and I think someone is setting these fires.”
McFatridge said that about “three or four weeks ago,” up to eight separate brush fires occurred between mile markers 24 and 27. He attributed those blazes to arson as well.
“Much of the area where the fires have happened are four-wheeler trails,” McFatridge said. “We’re investigating and also asking for the public to be on the lookout for suspicious activity that might be related to arson.”
“If something is suspicious enough to catch a person’s attention, it’s probably suspicious enough that law enforcement ought to be notified,” said White Hall Fire Chief Sandy Castleberry, who is also a sergeant with the White Hall Police Department.
“It would be helpful if someone witnessing suspicious activity could get descriptions of the people involved and the descriptions and license info on any suspicious vehicles,” Castleberry said.
Castleberry said three grass fires along the roadsides near Exit 32 kept White Hall personnel busy on Tuesday. A fourth fire nearby was smothered with a fire extinguisher by White Hall Police Officer Tommy Kelly prior to the fire department’s arrival at that site.
“I didn’t see any evidence of arson at the fires near White Hall,” Castleberry said, “but we’re staying alert for that possibility.”
Motorists should refrain from tossing lighted cigarettes or cigars from their vehicles, especially into grassy or brushy areas along roadways, he said.
“It doesn’t take much to start a big fire in this weather,” he said.
Castleberry said motorists also need to be watchful and yield to the opposite side whenever firefighters and/or firefighting equipment are present along a roadway.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas Forestry Commission crews responded to 48 wildfires that burned 608 acres Tuesday.
Although no burn bans have been issued in Southeast Arkansas, bans are in effect for 15 counties. Rain is in the forecast for Thursday and into the weekend. For details about burn bans and wildfire danger, visit www.arkfireinfo.org. For the location or status of fires, residents may call the AFC Dispatch Center at 1-800-468-8834.