Officials: Guthrie police officer responsible for wildfire that charred 1,320 acres

Posted on: 5:56 pm, January 14, 2014, by , updated on: 09:11pm, January 14, 2014

GUTHRIE, Okla. – Three days after a controlled burn got out of control, a wildfire continues to smolder in Guthrie.

Chief Eric Harlow, with the Guthrie Fire Department, said, “We had a resident in the area burning tree limbs and brush.”

He says 40 mile-an-hour winds fanned the small flames into a large grass fire, which burned about 1,320 acres.

Jeff Mathews said, “The fire took everything in our yard except for the house.”

The pastor and his wife were at church Sunday when the fire started.

They came home to find their property charred.

Mathews said, “The deck was on fire and we actually had neighbors come with buckets and water hoses to help put the fire out.”

Days later, small flames still flicker on the Towle’s property.

James Towle said, “They’ve always had them around here close by, but they’ve always missed us but this time it got us.”

The blaze melted part of his siding.

The family’s barn was also destroyed with his tractor and a lifetime worth of tools inside.

Towle said, “All we lost is replaceable but it still hurts.”

He says losing his pickup truck hurts the most.

It is barely visible beneath the rubble.

All his children and grandchildren learned to drive in that truck.

Tisha Hampton, assessor for Logan County, said, “It’s a scary thing to have a fire come so close to your home like this. We want to find out what’s wrong and what we can do to help.”

As county assessors survey the damage, fire officials learned the person responsible for the fire was a Guthrie police officer.

Chief Harlow said, “Yes, unfortunately, it was one of our local police officers.”

He said that officer is responsible for all damages caused by the fire.

Harlow said. “If you intentionally start a controlled burn, the way the laws are written you are financially responsible whether it’s you personally or your homeowners’ insurance.”

Although there was no official burn ban at the time, NewsChannel 4 meteorologists predicted high fire danger days beforehand.

He said, “When you have a controlled burn, you need to look at the weather forecast really four or five days out.”

NewsChannel 4 was not able to reach the officer for comment but the fire chief says he is absolutely heartbroken over the ordeal.

Harlow said, “It’s unfortunate for the responsible party but unfortunately, that’s the way the law is written. Somebody has to be accountable. I can tell you, I talked to him and he’s taking this pretty hard.”

The chief also stresses anyone could have made the same mistake.

Fortunately, there was no loss of life or injuries because of the fire.

One family we talked to has at least $25,000 worth of damage.

However, officials say they won’t have the total cost of damage for a few more days.