Putnam County believes it may have an active arsonist.
This time last year, there were 477 wildfires statewide. This year, there have been 641. Putnam County is no exception to this statewide increase, but because its recent weather patterns have not strayed too far from the norm, state and county officials are investigating four separate fires from March.
The Florida Forest Service and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the fires they believed were caused by arson. They found several of the county’s 12 fires to be suspicious, so they have taken samples from the sites and are running tests in search of an arsonist.
Within the Waccasassa District, Putnam County is responsible for more than 70 percent of the fires that have occurred this month. This time last year, the district had 25 fires; this year, the count is at 86.
“There hasn’t been lighting in the area in a while and (we) can’t find equipment use that caused them, so it’s just telling us that a human caused them. It’s just how we determine them, and we’ve got investigators looking at it right now,” Florida Forest Service supervisor Jason Foshee said.
To determine if the fires were caused by arson, forest rangers and law enforcement officers look at the fire’s origin, behavior and burn pattern.
The size of the fires vary, with a couple stretching 10 acres, one stretching 15, and another at 75 acres. The size of each fire can help officials to determine if the cause was negligence, intentional, or accidental.
The county has not had a fire since the sheriff’s department executed a search warrant March 17 on a vehicle seen in the area of one of the fires. The search warrant was to obtain impressions from the vehicle’s tires, said Lt. George Traber of the sheriff’s office. Crime lab results confirming or refuting a match on the tires is still months away, he said.
They encourage any residents with information on the fires to call the department as the investigation continues.
“We’ve got an idea who’s responsible,” Traber said, “but we’re not putting any more information out until I can say, ‘Yeah. That’s the guy.”