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Firefighter official admits starting 24 fires “to give the boys something to do”

James Bartels (Facebook)

Cliff Pinckard



COLUMBUS, Ohio — An official with a volunteer fire department who also is a former 911 dispatcher is now facing federal charges after he was accused of setting at least 24 arson fires at a national forest in southeast Ohio.

James Bartels, 50, of Patriot, Ohio, has admitted to setting fires in Wayne National Forest, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio. He reportedly set the fires with a lighter to “give the boys something to do” and to distract himself from depression, prosecutors say.

Bartels, who is an administrator at the Greenfield Township Volunteer Fire Department and is a former 911 dispatcher for Gallia County, was arrested Tuesday and is charged with willfully committing arson.

Prosecutors say a truck registered to Bartels was seen near the forest by officers with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Oct. 29, and Bartels was seen on a road nearby. Within an hour, a fire was reported in the area, prosecutors say.

Bartels resigned as a dispatcher on Nov. 8. Authorities say at least 17 fires were set after Bartels resigned. He reportedly was seen twice in the vicinity of fires just minutes after they started.

Prosecutor’s say the infotainment system data in Bartels’ truck places him at the locations of the fires.

Bartels is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court on Jan. 3 in Columbus. Willfully committing arson is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

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