New round of suspicious fires
By MIKE CORN
ELLIS -- After nearly two weeks without a fire, four suspicious fires -- all apparently starting in the ditch adjacent to a county road -- were called in Wednesday evening.
The fires came just hours after the print edition of The Hays Daily News reported on the ongoing investigation into the string of fires and the creation of a $2,500 reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the fires.
Wednesday's fires all were relatively small, although one approximately 11 miles north of Ellis likely burned nearly 60 acres of grassland, according to Ellis County Rural Fire Director Richard Klaus.
Another fire just miles away burned approximately 3 acres, while the remaining two burned small parcels of grassland.
"They all started in the ditch," Klaus said of the fires.
While that doesn't mean they intentionally were set, it's a strong indicator as the remaining 20 fires the State Fire Marshal's office "ruled incendiary or crimes of arson" also were started next to a road.
The biggest fire in those first 20 fires scorched nearly 1,200 acres of grassland -- in the general area of the four reported Wednesday.
The first of the four was called in shortly after 6 p.m., according to a man who watched as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze. He didn't want his name used, but he thinks he was close behind whoever was responsible for setting the fire.
He said the fire was only about a pickup's length from the road when he first drove up.
"It couldn't have been going long," he said.
He said a steady stream of vehicles drove past the scene shortly after firefighters arrived.
At the biggest fires, nearly a dozen trucks criss-crossed three pastures where the fire burned, firefighters on the trucks shooting a steady stream of water at hot spots.
The fire appeared to have started near a small bridge next to a pasture owned by Wes Love.
He and members of his family rushed to the scene when they saw smoke billowing up in the sky.
Armed with shovels, they helped battle the blaze.
The fire trucks made relatively quick work of the fire, pushed along by escalating winds.
Love said he thinks only approximately 20 acres in the 35-acre pasture burned, but the fire spread into an adjacent pasture, forcing firefighters to cut fences to fight the fire.
Sheriff's officers also were on the scene, and Love said he hopes they'll soon be able to make an arrest in the case.
"I hope he finds out who did it," Love said of the sheriff. "They're going to keep at it until somebody gets hurt."