Grass burner identified as firefighter

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September 14, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Iolan Lee Berg, 19, was arrested late Tuesday morning on 21 felony counts of arson in a series of rural fires that have plagued Carlyle and Geneva townships the past month.
Berg, an Allen County volunteer firefighter who lives in Carlyle Township, was at the scene of a grass fire on Utah Road southeast of Geneva when he was arrested.
“He has been a person of interest,” said Undersheriff Bryan Murphy, who went to the fire scene, waited until Berg and other volunteer firefighters extinguished the blaze and then made the arrest.
Without being specific, Murphy said technology played a huge role in developing information that led to Berg’s arrest.
“We can put him (Berg) at the scene of many of the fires when they started,” he said.
While officers think the fires mainly were the work of one individual, they haven’t ruled out that others may have been involved and investigations are continuing.
“We know a juvenile was with him (Berg) when our information puts him at the scene of one of the fires,” Murphy said. If investigations warrant, the juvenile “probably will be summoned into court,” rather than being arrested.
Murphy pointed out that Allen County Attorney Wade Bowie, who was made aware of the arrest Tuesday afternoon, ultimately will decide what charges will be filed against Berg, who is being held in Allen County Jail.

ALTOGETHER 28 arson fires have been investigated in Allen County in the past month.
One resulted in the loss of 250 big bales of hay, valued at $25,000, another destroyed a vacant farm house. A bridge on the Prairie Spirit Trail at the north of Iola also was torched, with damage estimated as high as $30,000.
Murphy said a definite link of the rail trail bridge fire to those in pastures and meadows hadn’t been established, but “we’re still looking at it.”
“It’s very satisfying to have made an arrest in this case,” Murphy continued. “All of our officers have been working hard to solve it and we have had a tremendous number of tips from citizens. Many people have made special efforts to watch in the area where the fires have been.
“I know the farmers are excited and relieved that we have someone in custody.”

TWO FIRES, initially thought to have been set maliciously, were at the behest of property owners, one to burn brush Monday evening and pasture grass Tuesday afternoon.
Murphy noted that since a countywide burn ban was in effect, any fire had to be cleared ahead of time through the sheriff’s office, 365-1400.

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