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Man arrested for setting wildfires for nearly two decades

Fire flames
Posted at 9:54 AM, Apr 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-20 05:14:39-04

FOND DU LAC COUNTY (NBC 26) — A 40-year-old man from Eden was arrested for setting fires to the southeast portion of Fond du Lac county for nearly two decades.

The Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office released that for many years, suspicious wildfires were notably occurring in the spring season. After a lengthy joint investigation with the Wisconsin DNR, a suspect was identified using fire forensics, covert surveillance systems and multiple field interviews.

During a joint interview, the suspect admitted to igniting several fires since 2020 and to igniting wildfires in the area for nearly two decades.

It is believed that the suspect is responsible for burning approximately 60 acres of land.

DNR Conservation Warden, William Hankee, became involved in the case in 2020 when he was investigating a wildfire in the Kettle Moraine Forest.

Hankee said other DNR staff informed him of similar fires in the area. A year later, a similar fire was lit in the same area and Hankee said that is when authorities began surveillance on the area. In 2022, surveillance footage showed a person lighting another two fires which were similar to the series of wildfires set in the area.

“The choice of vegetation location was always grasslands or marshes," Hankee said. "It was kind of a wildland area if you will. The times of the year were when it was drier obviously, which is easier to get a fire going. They were all lit, you know, from a short distance from the road, very similar in nature where it was lit by hand.”

Using surveillance, forensic science and a series of interviews, the DNR and Fond du Lac sheriff's office identified the suspect.

Hankee said the suspect revealed his motive to authorities.

“The suspect told us that they were using it as a relief of stress," Hankee said. "So, when they were under a lot of stress for some reason, they would go out and they would light fires."

Charges of Arson and Intentionally Set Fire to Land have been referred to the District Attorney in both Fond du Lac and Washington Counties.

Additional details into this case have not been released at this time.