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South Hall wildfires may be arson, officials say

POSTED: December 25, 2007 5:02 a.m.

The acrid smoke keeps drifting down from the woods bordering Donna and Greg Cash’s red brick ranch house on Frazer Road. And the fire engines and Georgia Forestry tractors keep coming out to douse the flames and dig fire trenches.

Eight times since Oct. 29, fires have burned on a 24-acre tract of undeveloped pine, oak and scrub woodland off Frazer Road, most recently on Thursday. Fire officials say the fires are obviously intentionally set.

“I hope they catch whoever’s doing it, because it’s crazy,” said Greg Cash, a self-employed remodeler and former construction company owner who has lived on the narrow country road off Atlanta Highway in South Hall for 26 years. “Look what it’s costing in manpower for the county to come out here all the time.”

So far, the fires, which usually scorch 4 to 5 acres, haven’t threatened any nearby homes. But that could change, Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle warned, noting the prevalent drought conditions that have already created “red flag alert” days for potential wildfires this year.

“If it continues, there could be a public safety risk,” Cagle said.

Hall County averages about 20 arson fires a year, and with the woods fires on Frazer Road “our 2007 totals for intentionally set fires are definitely going to go up,” the fire marshal said.

Speculation has ranged from hunters who set fires to flush out deer on the land to kids playing with lighters or matches.

Cagle said most intentionally-set fires stem from revenge or insurance fraud.

“Those (motives) don’t apply to this,” he said. “These seem to be for pure enjoyment, which would tend to point toward juveniles.”

Authorities have noted that the problems didn’t start until after the adjacent Wildwood subdivision opened, Cagle said.

Donna Cash said the smoke, and the required late-night visits from firefighters, has become a recurring nuisance. And with a long-standing county-wide burn ban and unseasonable warm weather, there’s no reason for area residents to be smelling smoke, unless something is burning that shouldn’t be.

“It’s just an oddity when it’s 75 degrees out and you open the car door and there’s smoke in the air,” she said.

Cagle said his department has fielded calls about the smoke from Hog Mountain Road to Falcon Parkway to McEver Road.

Thursday’s high humidity meant the smoke would cling closer to the ground and likely prompt more calls, he said.

Fire officials are hopeful a phone tip or a sighting of a suspicious person will lead them to the culprit before more damage is done.

“We’ve seen intentionally set woods fires in the past, but never to this extent,” Cagle said.



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