Athens Review, Athens, Texas

January 31, 2011

Arboretum trails torched

Series of fires, apparently deliberately set, cause extensive damage Saturday

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

ATHENS — Walking trails at the East Texas Arboretum sustained extensive damage Saturday afternoon from a series of fires that appear to have been deliberately set.

The fires were scattered over several acres of the park set aside for patrons to stroll past native trees, shrubs and flowers.

Arboretum Executive Director Theresa Glasgow said not only were large patches of ground scorched by flames, damage was also done unavoidably by firefighters who had to slice through trees to get to the burning vegetation.

“It’s sad that someone would do this to this place that we’ve worked so hard to make beautiful for the people of East Texas,” Glasgow said.

Athens Police Department dispatch received a call shortly after 2 p.m. from the Rev. Mark Allen of the Athens Life Fellowship reporting the fires.

Flames from the wooded area were visible at the Arboretum Women’s Building where meetings and other events are often held.

Three Athens Fire Department trucks were dispatched to the fire and aid was also sent from the Texas Forest Service.

Glasgow said conditions were ripe for the fires to have done even more damage, had it not been for the efforts of the fire personnel, who were able to control the flames and keep them from spreading to any of the Arboretum buildings.

Glasgow said the latest incident was about the fourth time vandals had damaged part of the Arboretum facility and grounds.

Since the Saturday fire, a private donation of $3,000 has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the individual or persons responsible for the fires. She pointed at one area that was now a stretch of charred earth.

“That whole section used to be solid woods and brush,” She said.

Athens Fire Marshal Ronny Denton continued the investigation into the blazes Monday. He said The Texas Department of Insurance is putting up a $1,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of anyone responsible for the burning incidents.

Deliberately set fires have been an ongoing problem in the vicinity of the Arboretum for several months.

“We’ve had some since back in the summertime,” Denton said. “We’ve had a few back in that wooded area behind the old drive in, between Patterson Road, U.S. Highway 175 and State Highway 31.”

Denton will distribute posters at Athens Middle School and Athens High School in case someone may have seen or heard something that could help identify the firestarters.

Anyone with information can call 1-877-434-7345.