AG Van Hollen: Fire officials report increase in arson fires

Dana Brueck 608/266-1221
Gary Bibow 608/297-7058

Cell 920/295-2302

Fire officials report increase in arson fires

MADISON, Wis. – Debris burning (burning of leaves, brush, pine needles) that gets out of control accounts for most of the wildfires that scorch hundreds of acres of Wisconsin’s landscape each spring. But there’s another cause of wildfires that has fire officials concerned this spring: arson.

In the last few weeks, the DNR has responded to several arson fires, bringing the total number of confirmed arson fires to 23 with several more still under investigation. Without suspects in many of these cases, taxpayers are left holding the tab for the cost of putting the fires out.

“These fires hurt both the environment and the economy as they burn wildlife habitat, prime recreation facilities, and valuable natural resources,” said Gary Bibow, Wisconsin DNR Forestry Law Enforcement Specialist. “The impacts of these and all wildfires last for years and can permanently alter entire ecosystems and affect the way these lands are managed.”

Arson wildfires can be prevented with the help of the general public and a call to the statewide arson hotline, staffed by the State Fire Marshal’s office.

Bibow says the kind of information that helps DNR investigators includes:

· Exact location and time of suspicious activity

· Vehicle make, model, color, and license plate number

· Height and build of person, including hair color and length, type and color of clothing

· Distinguishing characteristics such as facial hair, scars, and tattoos

· Any unusual clothing or jewelry

“Under no circumstance should a person try to apprehend someone they suspect of starting a fire,” Bibow said. “Notify your local law enforcement authorities, DNR office, or call the arson hotline.”

“Arson is a violent crime, capable of destroying property and threatening lives,” Tina Virgil, State Fire Marshal at the Department of Justice, said. “Anyone with information should contact law enforcement. Citizen information often is critical in helping solve a crime.”

Wisconsin’s arson hotline is sponsored by the Wisconsin Arson Insurance Council and is available 24 hours a day. Callers can remain anonymous. The toll-free number is 1-800-362-3005.

Bibow says arsonists will be prosecuted aggressively. If convicted, a person could pay as much as a $10,000 fine and face more than three years in prison. They also are held liable for the cost of suppression and damage to natural resources.

DNR fire control has responded to 438 wildfires so far this year with over 1000 acres burned, with many more fires handled by local fire departments.