Amidst the ashes of the "Chimney Tops 2" and "Cobbly Nob" wildfires in Tennessee, with 14 confirmed dead, 176 injured, and 2,460 structures destroyed or damaged, comes the dispiriting news that two juveniles have been charged with setting the blazes.
The two, currently not named or described due to their age, were charged on Wednesday, December 7, with aggravated arson. Some media outlets are referring to the accused as "teens". Other charges are possible as the two face a hearing by this Friday on their bail status and determination if they are to be charged as adults.
A tip line was created by Tennessee and federal authorities to gain information, though it has not been shared yet if a tip lead to the arrest of these two youths.
Wildfire can be destructive, regardless of origin, but it strikes a chord when they are set with malice. It holds extra resonance when the accused are children. We do not know yet the motivations of the accused, or what specific evidence lead to their apprehension, but we do know that arson related wildfires are unfortunately not uncommon.
In the current edition of NFPA Journal, I wrote the WildfireWatch column about the August arrest of Damin Pashilk on 17 counts of arson. He is accused of setting the August 13 Clayton Fire in Lake County, California that consumed over 300 structures. He is also suspected in a dozen other fires in the area dating back to the summer of 2015. What motivates wildfire arsonists and their impacts are the focus of the column.
The column also explores NFPA resources in wildfire arson investigation and youth fire setter outreach.
Chapter 28 of NFPA 921, Fire and Explosion Investigations, details wildfire investigation cause and origin methodology, helping investigators determine if foul play was involved. The technical committee for NFPA 921 is considering expanding the chapter for the 2020 edition.
NFPA Public Education also has a young fire setter safety tip sheet to help fire educators and parents alike keep a child's curiosity with fire from becoming a conflagration.
As the region recovers, you can help. Sevier County and the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Severville, Tennessee, have set up the Mountain Tough website to coordinate assistance to those who need help, and to receive support from those that want to help. I encourage you to visit the site and learn more.
Photo Credit: Fitzgibbons, Candice. Two Juveniles Charged with Arson in Deadly Tennessee Wildfire. Sevier News Messenger, 7 December 2016. Pulled 8 December 2016. http://www.seviernewsmessenger.com/2016/12/07/arson-arrests-tennessee-wildfire/