Reward money is being offered after an outbreak of fires in southwest Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest that’s suspected to be the result of arson.
One blaze last month near the town of Rueter in Taney County burned more than 2,000 acres, caused a school district to call classes and destroyed a home. Investigators believe that fire, as well as several others on the same day in the same county, were ignited by arsonists.
Mark Twain National Forest Public Affairs Officer (PAO) Cody Norris says Forest Service Law Enforcement is offering up to $25,000 for useful information leading to arrests or convictions. “If they’ve seen a certain car in an area at a certain time when these types of activities are happening, that would be great information for us to have,” said Norris.
Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs District Ranger Joe Koloski thinks it’s important to have public involvement in singling out offenders after several incidents involving suspected arson occurred in his section of the Mark Twain Forest in the past year.
“We really want to stop any arsonists and could use the public’s assistance in providing usable information to achieve this goal,” said Koloski. “Forest arsonists are gambling with other people’s lives, and this needs to stop.”
Forest Service Law Enforcement will determine the amount of money distributed as a reward based on the actionable nature of the information provided.
PAO Norris says resources were able to be quickly put in place to offer rewards through the efforts of Ranger Koloski, who worked with forest service personnel regionally and in Washington, D.C. to secure the money. Forest arson cases are generally felonies under Missouri state laws.
Norris says there’s good fire and there are bad fires. Prescribed fires are executed by the forest service and landowners as a forest management tool to clear out underbrush and open up space for new growth. Prescribed fires are monitored by personnel in place and are only done if the proper conditions are present.
According to Norris, arson can be especially threatening to woodland areas.
“A wildland fire caused by arson can be very devastating,” Norris said. “In the wrong conditions on a hot dry day with high winds, like we saw with the Rozell fire (the name given to the blaze near Rueter in Taney County), which was a wind-driven fire, a wildland fire caused by arson, one of these forest arson cases, can be very devastating.”
In addition, Norris says arson in wildlands can severely damage natural resources but can also threaten adjacent homes and businesses.
“We have 1.5 million acres of land that we manage on the Mark Twain National Forest,” stated Norris. “And it’s in a 3-million-acre footprint because there’s so much private-public intermix there. Anywhere you go in our forest, there’s private land not too far away.”
Forest arson cases are generally felonies under Missouri state laws. The Mark Twain Forest has established an anonymous phone line for the public to call in tips about forest arson, but contact information will need to be provided for any reward money to be realized. The arson hotline is (573) 364-1745.
The U.S. Forest Service is a division of the federal Department of Agriculture.