Fire official said it's premature to call grass fires arson

benw@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 25, 2013 

Joe Paull Fires along intersate 185 cause traffic delays going northbound Thursday evening with both north and southbound lanes being closed at exit 19 for GA-315 around 7:30 p.m.

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Grass fires that temporarily diverted traffic along a section of Interstate 185 Thursday afternoon remain under investigation, but it’s too soon to point to arson, a fire official said Friday.

“I think the report of arson right now is just a little premature,” said Robert Futrell, deputy chief of Columbus Fire & Emergency Medical Services. “There’s nothing now that’s conclusive that it was a set fire.”

At least nine grass fires ignited in Muscogee and Harris counties along I-185, fire officials said. In Columbus, the fires were along the northbound side of the interstate, just north of J.R. Allen Parkway and Double Churches Road.

Northbound and southbound traffic was diverted on I-185 between the Highway 315 and Highway 116 exits for more than four hours. Motorists complained the smoke filled route was a visual hazard.

Three fires were in Columbus and six others ignited in Harris County.

Futrell also pointed to the dry season as a possible factor in the fires.

“It wouldn’t take much if someone threw a cigarette out, then the wind catching the embers and carrying them off,” he said. “You just never know with the weather we are having and as dry it is.”

Investigators are still looking into the fires as a possible arson, but right now there is no definite evidence that they were set, Futrell said. Anyone with information on the fires should call Fire Investigations at 706-329-0025.

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