Forest fires lead to felony charges

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 14, 2008

GATESVILLE – A Gates County resident was arrested March 11 and charged with intentionally setting wildfires, including several fires on Feb. 10.

Working with the Gates County Sheriff’s Department and District Forest Ranger David LaFon, members of the law enforcement branch of the N.C. Division of Forest Resources arrested Mark Brandon DuBois, 21, of the Acorn Hill community. DuBois was charged with three felony counts of intentionally setting fire to woodlands. He spent one night in jail before having his $7,500 secured bond posted on March 12.

DuBois is accused of starting a fire Jan. 29 that burned about one-tenth of an acre on Bosley Road and starting four other fires on Feb. 10 near his home. The Feb. 10 fires eventually burned into one raging inferno that consumed 70 acres and threatened multiple homes.

Investigators believe the fires started when someone lit firecrackers and threw them into wooded areas.

“Mr. DuBois was a suspect from the very beginning,” Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb said. “We were able to locate a couple of individuals that were known associates of Mr. DuBois. Through interviews with them we were able to develop information that led to the arrest.”

Sheriff Webb added that the investigation continues as his department is looking at others that may have been involved.

Virgil O’Neal, the Division of Forest Resources’ lead investigator on the case, said numerous witnesses were interviewed during a lengthy probe.

Fueled by constant winds in excess of 30 mph with higher gusts, Gates County was the scene of nine forest fires on Feb. 10.

The worst of those fires occurred on Bosley Road and Acorn Hill Road where several homeowners were forced to evacuate.

A small army of Gates County volunteer firemen along with Forest Service personnel and equipment battled the blaze that took nearly 10 hours to bring under control.

Sheriff Webb said DuBois may be held responsible for the costs associated with battling the fire.

“Restitution has been discussed,” he said. “That would have to be worked out between the DA (District Attorney) and the court system.”

Damage to real and personal property as well as the expenses incurred by the volunteer firemen and Forest Service personnel could qualify for restitution.