Volunteer firemen charged with arson, Springdale chief responds

By: Sara Shookman Email
By: Sara Shookman Email

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- It took almost six months to completely uncover, but investigators say two volunteer fire fighters started setting fires in their own community.

Springdale Volunteer Fire Department's chief says it was just days after an Easter blaze he started to find clues that it was an inside job.

"When we get paged out at 1:30 in the morning to respond to a house fire that could have possibly been set by two members of our fire department, we take that very very seriously," said Adam Payne.

Payne says one of his newest firefighters arrived to a fire at an abandoned house on Floyd Evans Lane seemingly too quick. On April 25, the day after that fire, he started to look into the matter.

"I went to 9-1-1 and had them play the tapes back of our dispatch and our response times," he said.

What he found launched an investigation that led to the arrest of two volunteer firemen -- Brandon Evans and Michael Loper.

Evans is charged with arson and reckless burning, in connection with an another brush fire in Harrogate. Loper faces one count of arson. Both men are 19.

"Arson is not hard to prove. But proving who done it is a problem," said Claiborne County Sheriff Captain David Honeycutt.

Honeycutt says investigators put the pieces together through forensic evidence and eyewitness reports. Why does he think they did it?

"That adreneline rush of watching something burn and then going and putting it out you know," said Honeycutt.

And it isn't just those who live nearby that are put in danger.

"It affects the whole county. Insurance rates go up. You don't affect just one person, it affects everybody arson does," said Honeycutt.

Payne says both men have been let go. But he hopes community support for the strictly volunteer station doesn't go with them.

"Some ask why didn't you check their background or this that and the other," he said. "You know its hard when you're volunteer. You're short on volunteers. And when somebody comes through the door to want to help, you don't turn them down."

Now he and other local firefighters just want to get back to the job. "Just try to move forward. That's all we can do."

Captain Honeycutt says arson investigators are also looking into a rash of fires in the White Oak and Clairfield areas, near the Campbell County line. Both counties hope to work together to see if they can find a connection.

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