Feds Say 911 Dispatcher Set Dozens of Wildfires

Ohio man James Bartels said he wanted to 'distract himself from depression,' complaint states
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2022 4:18 PM CST
Feds Say 911 Dispatcher Set Dozens of Wildfires
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Gilitukha)

A volunteer fire department administrator and former 911 dispatcher in Ohio admitted setting at least 24 fires with a lighter "to 'give the boys something to do' and to distract himself from depression," according to the Justice Department. James Bartels, 50, was arrested Tuesday and charged with setting fires in Wayne National Forest over a period of several months, the Daily Beast reports. According to a criminal complaint, investigators first became suspicious of Bartels in April, when he "discovered an unreported fire" late one night. According to an affidavit, Ohio Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officers spotted Bartels' pickup truck near the national forest on Oct. 29 at a site where a fire was reported an hour later.

Investigators say Bartels apparently stepped up his pace after he resigned as a Gallia County dispatcher, with 17 fires reported on Nov. 8, days after his resignation. A witness identified Bartels' truck, a burgundy 2021 Ford F-250, "at two separate locations in the vicinity of multiple fire starts, within minutes of their ignition," the complaint states. Some of the fires set that day combined to burn around 1,300 acres of forest. Investigators said location data from the infotainment system in Bartel's truck put him "in close proximity to 24 fires, most of them 1 to 2 hours before they were reported to 911." If he is convicted of the federal crime of "timber set afire," Bartels could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each count. (More arson stories.)

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