Police & Fire

Standing Outside the Fire: Local charged for intentionally setting fires

By Joel Phelps
The Arkadelphian

Felony charges pursued by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture were filed this week against a man accused of purposely setting wildfires for “the thrill of the chase.”

Austin C. Grove, 22, of Arkadelphia was arrested Tuesday, Feb. 15, on 12 police counts of setting fire with intent to let escape. Prosecutors are charging him with one count.

According to court documents filed this week, forest rangers began investigating a series of fires on Forestry Circle that were set during December. Each of the fires were on property owned by the Corps of Engineers or private residents, and were contained with bulldozers and/or tools used by firefighters. The Caddo Valley Fire Department was among the agencies that responded to the fires, along with the Corps of Engineers and Arkansas Forestry Division.

An affidavit filed by Justin Smith, forestry investigator, notes that the fires were “hot sets” in which the incendiary device is taken from the ignition site. While investigating one of the dozen fires, Smith located a piece of a bumper that he discovered was missing from a vehicle belonging to Grove.

While probing for the cause of two other fires, Smith collected firewood from Grove’s residence, which at the time was on Forestry Circle, and noticed details that indicated it was the same type of wood used to ignite the fires, according to the affidavit.

During another fire, Grove was seen standing outside his vehicle near the source of two of the fires. Asked why he was there, Grove reportedly told rangers he was returning home from college and was there to check the air pressure of his tires. The affidavit, however, suggests that photographic evidence disproved Grove’s claims.

More photographs showed Grove leaving from and arriving at his residence around the time the final fire started.

In January, Smith and Clark County Sheriff Jason Watson interviewed Grove, who said he enjoyed the “thrill of the chase” and got an “adrenaline rush” from committing a crime and not getting caught, according to the affidavit.

Grove was arrested by Henderson State University police and transported to the Clark County Detention Center. He was released on a $10,000 bond later that day.

The charge is a Class C felony punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Arraignment is set for March 1.

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