Officials Offer Reward For Info On Arsonists

The Mississippi Forestry Commission is going on the offensive against arsonists. Tickets, fines, even arrests are in store for anyone caught violating South Mississippi's burn ban.

For the past two months, dry weather and piles of storm debris fueled wildfires across the region. And arson is a bigger problem then you might think.

"The problem here in Pearl River County is very serious," Forestry Commission Investigator Scott Miles said.

Warning signs don't discourage arsonists. Signs posted around the woods saying "Burn Ban In Effect" apparently were ignored. Forestry officials believe a woods fire at the I-59/Highway 53 juncture was intentionally set.

"These people that are setting these arson type fires have a complete disregard for public safety."

In the past two months, foresters and firefighters have battled 132 woods fires in Pearl River County. Of those fires, officials say 85-percent of them were arson related. That's something leaders say must stop.

"We just felt like it was time to really start bearing down on these people who are setting these fires intentionally. We've got to put a stop to it. Somebody is going to get killed, somebody's going to get seriously hurt and lives and property are at stake," interim State Forester Everard Baker said.

Foresters spent Thursday posting flyers. The Commission is offering a $2500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of an arsonist.

"We're going to cover this county from a law enforcement stand point. I visited with the Sheriff this morning. I'll be writing a letter of appreciation to the Board of Supervisors for the burn ban and to urge their support, but we need to catch these people," Baker said.

Planes normally used to spot woods fires will also be searching for suspicious cars and people in wooded areas, to stop anyone from playing with fire.

The Forestry Commission has asked law enforcement to ticket people who are burning trash and violating the burn ban.

Anyone with tips about suspicious or illegal burning should call 1-800-240-5161. Anyone convicted of starting a woods fire could face up to two years in jail, plus a fine of up to $2,000.

by Al Showers