Evidence links homeless camp to Gautier woods fire

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Gautier Fire investigators believe a homeless group is to blame for a fire that ravaged a large section of forest in the city. They said the fire likely sparked from a homeless encampment. As it burned Wednesday afternoon, smoke quickly clouded Highway 90, making for a dangerous situation for drivers.

More than 150 acres of black, charred trees and vegetation bear witness just how fierce Wednesday's wildfire was as it ripped through the woods.

"This is the animals' home, and the deer, the possums, and the raccoons, the snakes. If nothing else, we destroyed part of their hunting ground."

Two hundred yards deep in the wooded area, Chief Ray Frair and his investigators said they found the spot where the blaze likely started.

"Back here, this seems to be a homeless encampment. There seems to be at least two or three individuals occupying this area."

Scattered along the wooded trail were candles in trees and on tree stumps, dozens of cigarette butts, cooking utensils and even a fire-pit.

"You can see where fire appears to have crawled up and out of here," Friar said as he pointed to the pit.

The fire chief said whatever was burning back there grew out of control thanks to strong winds.

"That can be very deadly. In this situation, they probably walk away from it, thought they had it in control, but something happen," Friar said. "The winds picked up and something blew into the piles, and once again that is all it needed to get into the dry brush."

By Thursday, the fire was contained, but still isn't completely out. More than 100 hot spots remain across the forest. The sizes range from as small as a dime, to as large as a lawn chair.

"Hot spots are important to extinguish, just so they don't become aerial fuel, and jump across the establish fire line. But, hopefully, we will get some rain to help."

Investigators are looking for those responsible for the fire. Chief Frair said his hope now is that Mother Nature will be able to recover after so much damage was done.

Fire investigators said they also found a brown, mixed breed dog in the woods; they believe it belongs to the homeless group. They are urging anyone with information about this fire to please call (228) 497-1656.

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