UPDATE: Bell County forest fires declared arson

By: Eric Eckstrom, Angela Sparkman Email
By: Eric Eckstrom, Angela Sparkman Email
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Bell County Forest Rangers say eight fires were intentionally set in Bell County on Saturday. Now a KSP Arson Investigator and rangers are interviewing people and looking for leads.

The fires are out now but forest rangers say eight fires, including several in Pine Mountain State Resort Park, spread quickly from the moment they started on Saturday.

"Arson is a very serious crime. It could have potentially caught homes on fire," said Trooper Shane Jacobs, Kentucky State Police.

Bell County Forest Rangers say the fires in the state park threatened the lodge, cabins, employees' homes, and historical monuments.

"We were very fortunate to not lose any structures," said Lem Johnson, Bell County Forest Ranger.

On Wednesday, investigators worked to determine the exact points of origin and followed up on tips in the community.

"We have several reports of witnesses that saw the activity in the park area that day around that time, and we're pursuing leads with Kentucky State Police," said Johnson.

"We have troopers and detectives out right now interviewing people who may have seen an individual setting those fires," said Trooper Jacobs.

Investigators are still looking into whether the fires are connected or separate incidents.

They are still asking the public for tips to help to catch those responsible. All tips can remain anonymous.

You can report any tips to Kentucky State Police Harlan Post at 606-573-3131 or the Arson Hotline at 1-800-27-ARSON.


Scattered brushfires scorched more than 100 acres of Pine Mountain State Resort Park throughout the day on Saturday.

Rangers were first alerted to the fire around 11am. Dozens of responders arrived shortly afterwards and contained all three park brushfires without structural damages or injuries.

“The communication amongst agencies has been wonderful, and they've contained everything very quickly,” says State Park Ranger Tent Kelly.

Investigations as to the cause are still ongoing, but at least one official says the facts present a strong case for arson.

“They’ve all started somewhere where it would have been hard for the person to be seen by setting the fire…it's just not the right weather to have any accidental fires, there are no camp grounds or burned piles of debris piles around in the area so it leads us to think it's arson,” says Lem Johnson, of the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

Several brushfires were reported outside of the park as well. No structure damage or injuries have been reported. Officials with Kentucky State Police in Harlan are asking anyone with information on who may have started the fires to contact them at 606-573-3131 or contact the arson hotline at 1-800-272-7766.

Original Post: 3-15-14

Firefighters are battling multiple brush fires in Bell County.

Bell County Forest Ranger, Lem Johnson, tells WYMT about 60 firefighters are working three major fires in Pine Mountain State Park.

Officials anticipate crews fighting the fires until midnight.

As of right now Pineville Fire Department, Bell County Fire Department, Frakes Volunteer Fire Department, Middlesboro Fire Department and the The Division of Forestry are all on the scene.

We will bring you more information as it becomes available.

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