Florida battles increasing problem with forest arson

3:36 PM, May 8, 2012   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The state of Florida is dealing with an increasing problem of forest arson this year. Now authorities are asking for your help and you could earn a reward in the process.

Arsonists have set more than 20 percent of the wildfires across Florida this year and burned more than 5,000 acres as a result.

The Florida Forest Service says it won't tolerate anyone who purposely sets wildfires, so it's taking action to target these criminals.

The state is encouraging Floridians to call the Arson Alert Hotline at 1-800-342-5869 to report suspicious wildfires. Callers can remain anonymous. If your information helps with a conviction, you can earn up to a $5,000 reward.

Ronda Sutphen of the Forest Service hopes Floridians will be more aware of their surroundings in the woods. "If they see any suspicious fire, call 911 immediately. If they see a suspicious person or vehicle in the area, try to get a tag number, color of the vehicle, maybe a description of the person."

Sutphen says it's hard to imagine why anyone would deliberately set a wildfire.

"People will commit arson fires for various reasons. Sometimes for excitement, just to watch the forest burn. Sometimes for revenge. They're mad at somebody or their employer. Or it just could be a malicious behavior. Also children bored and playing with matches are another problem that we have at this time of year."

Sutphen says authorities have already caught one arsonist who was spotted running away from a wildfire this year. He admitted setting the blaze.

Florida's continuing drought is making the wildfire season worse. So far about 1,700 wildfires have burned more than 70,000 acres in Florida.

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