Firefighter Admits To Starting Forest Fires To Cope With Depression

The Wayne National Forest has been the scene of at least 24 arson fires since spring 2022. In the aftermath of the fires, a federal charge has been filed against a fire department administrator and former 911 dispatcher.

An arrest was made for 50-year-old James A. Bartels, a resident of Patriot, Ohio, who appeared in federal court yesterday.

Bartels works at the Greenfield Township Volunteer Fire Department as an administrator. Additionally, he worked as a 911 dispatcher for Gallia County.

Law enforcement officers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources observed a truck registered to Bartels near Wayne National Forest on Oct. 29, 2022, according to an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint. Bartels was spotted on Dry Ridge Road. Almost immediately, a fire broke out near Dry Ridge Road and Cauley Creek Road and was reported within an hour.

At least 17 fires were lit after Bartels resigned as a 911 dispatcher for Gallia County on Nov. 8. Within minutes of the fires being started, Bartels was seen at two separate locations in close vicinity.

In an interview with law enforcement, Bartels admitted that he started fires to distract himself from depression and “to give the boys something to do.” According to Bartels, he may have been responsible for 24 fires.

In addition, the infotainment system of his truck aligned with the locations of the fires.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Bartels in the U.S. District Court in Columbus on Jan. 3, 2023.

The federal crime of willfully committing arson carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison