[cifnmedia] Arson suspect in rash of fires

  • From: "Wilcox, Christopher M" <cmwilcox@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 02:35:40 -0600

Arson suspect in rash of fires


           Bill Byrns <mailto:bbyrns@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>  , The Daily
Journal         

October 22, 2003 

Arson is suspected in a series of fires that had area firefighters busy
battling blazes in cornfields and roadside ditches Tuesday afternoon. 

"We had four different fires," said Manteno Fire Chief Maurice O'Keefe.
"I believe all of them were set." 

Kankakee County Sheriff's Police are searching for two white males,
possibly teen-agers, who were seen driving slowly near the fires in a
small to mid-size red or maroon two-door car. 

The fires were within a three mile area. Three of the fires broke out
within 23 minutes of one another, keeping firefighters busy through the
afternoon. 

The first and largest fire began around 1 p.m. along DeSelm Road west of
Manteno. 

"It burned a lot of standing corn but we still do not have an exact
estimate of loss," O'Keefe said. "It began right at the corner of the
road next to a driveway and burned a very sizable area. 

"We had a lot of help from a farmer who brought in a huge disc and cut a
firebreak for us." 

O'Keefe said that brush trucks from Peotone and Manhattan were damaged
by corn stalks as fire crews drove into the field to battle the fire.
"We had brush trucks from fire departments all over the area," O'Keefe
said, thankful for the help in Tuesday's outbreaks. 

Anyone with information about the unidentified suspects or the fires is
asked to call Crime Stoppers at 93-CRIME or sheriff's Detective Doug
Barwegen at 937-8485. Tipsters to Crime Stoppers can earn a reward up to
$1,000 if the information leads to the arrests of the offenders. 

Area firefighters battled several field fires that were fanned by high
winds Monday afternoon. 

One 40 acre fire near Goodrich destroy a Salina Township Fire Department
brush truck and briefly threatened homes in the area. Two firemen in the
truck escaped safely. 

Fed by 30 mph winds, the Goodrich fire created its own tornado-like
conditions that stalled the truck and set plumes of smoke so high they
were visible at Peotone. 

Another fire 1 1/2 miles east of Sun River Terrace burned nearly a mile
long area and nearly destroyed an irrigation system pivot near 8250
East. 

Peotone farmer Ron Hack suffered smoke inhalation when his combine
caught fire Monday evening. The fire did an estimated $20,000 damage to
the combine and burned three acres. A 19-year-old Peotone firefighter
also suffered heat exhaustion at the scene southwest of town. 

Assistant Fire Chief Bill Schreiber said Hack was still in the combine
cab when fire rescue personnel arrived. 

Two young arsonists who set fire to several pieces of farm equipment
were caught Tuesday by Macon County officials. Matthew Suhl, 19, and
Christopher Kraft, 20, admit they vandalized the equipment last week,
but blamed each other for setting the fires that damaged a combine and
destroyed a grain truck. 

Both men are being held at the Macon County Jail on $15,000 bond. They
will be arraigned next week at Decatur. 

(Editor's Note: Journal Reporter Tamara Sharman contributed to this
story.)

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