Fire chief, homeowner frustrated after continuous arson of field

Fire chief, homeowner frustrated after continuous arson of field
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

LAWRENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - A field fire in Egypt over the weekend destroyed 160 acres of miscanthus and sparked a conversation about the dangers and cost of these fires.

The field went up in flames Saturday night.

The crop, miscanthus, can be used to make biofuel, so it burns very hot and quickly.

Multiple fire departments responded to the blaze and worked to protect two nearby homes.

This isn't the first time this field has caught on fire, though.

Hoxie Fire Chief Chris Ditto said it was also intentionally set on fire in June 2015 and December 2016, not only putting lives in danger but also wasting money and resources.

The flames from the miscanthus reached up 20 feet high.

"If you get caught in there or get a piece of equipment caught in there, you can't move fast enough to get out of there," Ditto said.

Ditto said one of the previous fires at that field damaged some of the fire department's equipment, costing about $9,000, which puts a damper on the department's budget and unnecessarily spends taxpayer dollars.

"I think it's people out thinking it's cool to set things on fire and running backroads but it's actually putting people's lives in danger and when we do catch you, we will prosecute you," Ditto said.

There is one home that sits right beside the miscanthus field. The very flammable crop grows on two sides of it, only about 30 feet away.

Paula Lough and her husband have lived in that house for more than 10 years.

She said that since the field has been set on fire each year, she is scared they will eventually lose their home.

"I've been anxious because you never know which direction the fire's going to go," Lough said. "It's depending on which way the wind blows."

Lough said it's terrifying to see the huge flames so close to her house.

She is afraid that next time it catches on fire the wind might not be in their favor and she could lose everything or not have time to get out alive.

Lough and her husband want the people responsible for setting the field on fire to understand they are putting people's lives and property in danger.

"Depending on if it's a youth or somebody like that, they don't know the consequences of what that fire can do," Lough said. "It's really a serious thing, you know because if it did get out of control it's my home, which can be replaced, but if someone's hurt, that can't."

The family is thankful for the fire departments who respond quickly and always protect her house.

"I'm concerned for our fire departments because it's a hazardous thing," Lough said. "I feel bad that they have to come out in all kinds of weather, but they've been great to us."

She really wishes the crop wasn't so close to her house but knows there isn't much she can do unless the farmer chooses to dig up the roots, which is what it takes for miscanthus to stop regrowing every year.

Chief Ditto said his department is working with the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office to follow up on any leads in this case.

They are asking the public to contact the sheriff's office with any information about who might have started the fire.

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