Two volunteer firefighters’ trucks were stolen while they were out battling a series of arson fires in Wise County. Now, investigators are trying to piece it together why.
Leaders with East Wise Fire and Rescue believe the fires were set to pull them away from the station so the thieves could strike. Investigators are looking into that theory and others.
Fire Chief David Plankey said three consecutive fires were set around 3 a.m. on Feb. 22. A vehicle fire didn’t materialize, but moments after a call for a hay fire and a vacant mobile home would.
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“It’s very rare that we run into anything like that so I was questioning what’s going on as we were fighting the fire, and as I was getting people coming into help, I was immediately calling for the marshal,” said Assistant Fire Chief Jim Blackney.
Four volunteer firefighters initially responded, and were eventually aided by surrounding departments. While they were fighting back the flames, one firefighter returned to the station for more equipment only to find his personal truck along with Blackney’s truck missing.
“When the cars were found missing, I knew instead of just having three fires, I said now we got set up,” Blackney said. “The three fires were set to pull us away, make sure we stayed away while they came in and did this.”
Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said there is no doubt it’s arson, and the fires are connected. Beard said it appears the fires are linked to the thefts of the trucks, as well.
For Blackney, the theft is personal. His father gave him the truck new before he passed away last year.
“It’s hard to explain how you feel. The anger was there, then the disbelief was there and then I just accepted that it was done,” Blackney said.
Plankey said the frustration is deep. The volunteer firefighters put their lives on the line when they respond to calls, and one of the firefighters was injured battling the blazes.
“The fact that they are setting arson fires to do things like this is extremely dangerous,” Plankey said.
Investigators say both pickup trucks have been recovered. According to the Wise County Sheriff’s Department, one was recovered days later in a Braum’s parking lot in Dallas.
The other was recovered during a traffic stop north of Decatur late Saturday night. The woman driving the truck was arrested, but her charges are not directly linked to either the thefts or the arsons.
The investigation continues.