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Arson arrest made in wildfire case

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, October 6, 2018
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An Alvord man was arrested Thursday afternoon and charged with arson causes bodily injury, a first degree felony, in connection with the large wildfire near Alvord in August.

Robert Charles Russell

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said Robert Charles Russell, 55, was arrested around mid-afternoon Thursday at a travel trailer where he has been living on the Barclay Salvage yard property. The salvage yard was heavily damaged in the Aug. 3 fire.

Akin said Russell refused to answer the door for deputies serving the arrest warrant, so the officers made forced entry. Once officers made entry into the home, Russell did not resist arrest, Akin said.

Multiple sheriff’s office deputies, along with a helicopter with the Texas Department of Public Safety were at the scene for the warrant service.

“DPS sent their helicopter so we could have eyes in the sky to help us if he attempted to flee,” Akin said.

Officers had previously been to the location multiple times attempting to serve a search warrant but had not been able to locate Russell, the sheriff said. Both a search warrant and arrest warrant were executed Thursday.

He said the investigation revealed the fire originated on the Barclay property.

“We did aerial photos with a drone from the EMC (emergency management coordinator), conducted interviews and collected other evidence that gave us probable cause to arrest Robert Charles Russell based on the two-month investigation,” Akin said.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, sheriff’s office investigator Mike Neagle obtained surveillance video footage of the area near where the fire started. Russell had told Neagle he heard a “pop” and went to investigate and found the fire already burning.

The video footage shows Russell walking into and out of the camera view a few times.

“Russell then can be seen walking back in camera view carrying some type of red container and pouring an unknown liquid into that container,” the affidavit states. “Russell then walks out of camera view where he had previously been. This is the area where Russell had told Neagle he first observed the fire.”

The affidavit goes on to say that smoke can be seen only after Russell walks away from the area with the liquid in the container.

Through more interviews, Neagle determined the liquid in the container was gasoline.

Firefighters from more than 20 fire departments battled the intense blaze, and two firefighters were injured – a Chico firefighter sustained a broken leg and a Greenwood/Slidell firefighter suffered heat exhaustion at the August fire. Both had to be transported to Wise Health System in Decatur.

The fire burned approximately 450 acres near County Road 2391 between Alvord and Decatur, and it caused extensive damage at the salvage yard, where hundreds of vehicles were destroyed.

At the time of the fire, Wise County was under a burn ban that prohibited all outdoor burning.

Russell remained in the Wise County Jail Friday with bond set at $35,000.

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