COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A volunteer fire department administrator faces federal charges for allegedly starting more than 20 fires on purpose in Wayne National Forest — in an effort to “give the boys something to do,” he admitted in a law enforcement interview.
Police arrested James Bartels, 50, on Tuesday, and he was arraigned in Columbus for charges related to at least 24 arson fires dating back to early 2022, according to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Kenneth Parker.
In addition to Bartels’ duties as an administrator for the Greenfield Township Volunteer Fire Department, he also served as an emergency dispatcher in Gallia County, but he resigned from that position on Nov. 8.
Shortly after he resigned, at least 17 fires flared up in Wayne National Forest. Two times, eyewitnesses saw Bartels in a burgundy truck in the area of the fires within minutes after they were ignited, Parker said.
A little more than a week before his resignation, in October, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources officer first saw that burgundy truck — registered in Bartels’ name — an hour before a fire began to blaze close by, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
A law enforcement officer interviewed Bartels in December, according to the affidavit, where he admitted to setting fires in the forest with a lighter “to give the boys something to do and to distract himself from depression.”
On a map detailing likely arson fires provided to him, he marked 26 fires that he claimed to have started, according to the affidavit. Location data from the truck’s infotainment system also showed him at the scene of the fires.
Bartels’ preliminary hearing in federal court is scheduled for Jan. 3, 2023, and willfully committing arson could come with a prison sentence of up to five years, according to Parker’s office.