No. 2 Crime Story of the Year: Osage wildfire burns 250 acres, results in charge

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

OSAGE -- The No. 2 crime story in Carroll County in 2012 didn't start out as a crime story at all; it began as a Mother Nature story, or so everyone thought. It ended with an Osage-area resident being charged with setting the fire by burning trash, authorities said.

On Wednesday, July 4, about a month after the severe drought had prompted the county judge to issue a countywide burn ban, an enormous wildfire broke out near Osage, fueled by high winds that day, not to mention the crispy-dry conditions.

The blaze took off and quickly spread over 100 acres the first afternoon and evening, and it burned mightily for another day -- scorching more than 250 acres of forest and farm land in all -- before being brought under control late Thursday, July 5.

Darrell Bohannon, Forestry Service ranger for District 6, said that as of 7:30 p.m Thursday, the wildfire that began at 1 p.m. Wednesday near U.S. Highway 412 and spread northeastward was 100 percent under control, surrounded by fire lines, and was finishing burning itself out.

"Barring any more high winds or anything like that, I'd say it's done," Bohannon said at the time, clearly exhausted.

The blaze could have been much, much worse, Bohannon said.

It was contained with no loss of structures and only a few people evacuated, thanks to the tireless help of several agencies and many volunteers, he explained.

The success was due, also, to the Incident Command System, said Bohannon.

"I'm really happy with the Incident Command System," he said. He said the system was used for the first time on this fire, although it has been used in the county on search and rescue.

The way it works is that the first fire department on scene is in command. Then when Forestry gets there, they become the lead agency.

"I work with the fire chiefs, and we assign areas and tasks," Bohannon said. "Everyone knows what's in danger and where they need to be. Everyone is in communication."

He had nothing but praise for the people who responded to the fire.

"The local firefighters are volunteers," he said. "They get paid nothing to come out and answer the call all the time."

He said when the fire first broke out, the firefighters kept it from spreading to the houses.

Responding fire departments were Oak Grove, South Carroll County, Green Forest, Alpena and Marble. CERT and the Carroll County Sheriff's Office assisted with traffic control and evacuation.

Twenty volunteer Caddo Native Americans from Oklahoma were also called in to relieve local firefighters.

"County Judge Sam Barr came and moved crews around with his pickup," Bohannon said. "The Mennonites came and hauled water to the firefighters and other volunteers. I'm probably leaving some people out, but everyone deserves a lot of praise."

Though evacuation proved unnecessary, dozens of residents were told to prepare for that possibility. In the end, no structures were damaged, and no injuries were reported.

The wildfire was put out quickly also in large part because it was attacked from the air.

Forestry provided an air tanker, and there were two helicopters to drop water, one from the Buffalo River National Forest and one from the National Guard.

"I'm so glad I called them on the way to the fire," Bohannon said.

The fire was ruled officially "contained" Thursday at 7:30 p.m., but crews stayed until midnight, and two personnel went Friday morning to make sure there were no flareups.

About a month after the blaze, Perry Goolsby of U.S. Highway 412 near Alpena, was charged with unlawful burning in connection with the wildfire.

Bohannon said investigators believe the fire originated in a burning trash heap on Goolsby's property. A burn ban had been in effect in Carroll County since June 18.

Bohannon said Goolsby could face as much as $1,000 in fines, as long as one year in prison, or both if he is convicted of the misdemeanor.

Bohannon said he and Investigator Russell Lancaster came to suspect Goolsby after they flew over the burned area a few weeks after the blaze.

"We could spot the origin from the air," he said.

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