LONGVIEW – Champaign County sheriff's deputies believe that the same person or persons have been responsible for setting four fires in southeastern Champaign County over the last nine months and as many as seven different fires in the last three years.
"We aren't 100 percent sure whether the fires are all tied together, but we have a reason to believe all four might have a single source," said Lt. Ed Ogle of the Champaign County sheriff's office on Monday.
On Sept. 25, a fire erupted at a corn crib at 200N County Road 1900E in rural Longview. According to Ogle, the blaze was discovered at 1 a.m.
"By the time the Longview Fire Department got there a few minutes later, the crib was pretty much gone," Ogle said. "There were no crops in the corn crib, and nobody was home.The only thing stored in the crib was wood. We're thankful for that."
The first blaze in 2006 took place on New Year's Day just outside of Longview at 2173 County Road 100N, where a vacant barn burned to the ground.
Then, on Feb. 22, Ogle said a vacant house at 202 S. Logan St. in Broadlands appears to have been set on fire.
On June 26, a vacant house at 2173 County Road 100N burned to the ground, just yards away from the New Year's Day fire.
According to a sheriff's report, an area resident saw somebody in a white Ford pickup truck – at least 1991 or older model – driving away from the site before the first firetruck arrived. The truck had a rotating blue light on top of its cab, according to the report.
All four fires have two things in common: nobody was home at the time of the blaze and nobody was injured.
"In addition, we have had two or three other suspicious fires in the area over the last three years that could have been set by the same person or persons," Ogle said.
Patti Thompson of the Illinois state fire marshal's office in Springfield said her department is not investigating the rural fires.
"We're not necessarily called in on all fires," Thompson said Monday.
Ogle said catching arsonists is difficult in rural areas because the county has a limited number of deputies available to patrol.
"We'll give that area a little extra patrols," Ogle said."We'll try to get a car down there as much as possible."
Ogle said his deputies were successful earlier this summer apprehending a man who set a fire in rural Penfield.
On July 26, Dolph Burgrabe was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 48 months of probation and paying $50,995 in restitution for his role in setting a building on fire in rural Penfield, according to Ogle.
Persons with information about the rural fires in southeastern Champaign County are asked to call the Champaign County sheriff's office at 384-1213.
Staff writer Steve Bauer also contributed to this story.