Chad Gillenwater, 22 (Courtesy: Bowie County Sheriff's Office)
REDWATER, TX (KSLA) -
A volunteer firefighter has been arrested and charged in connection with several suspicious wildfires in the Redwater area of Bowie County over the last few months.
22-year-old Chad Gillenwater of Texarkana is charged with Arson of Building / Habitation / Vehicle Reckless in connection with the wildfires, following an investigation conducted by the Bowie County Sheriff's Office, the Texas Forest Service and Wake Village and Redwater Volunteer Fire Departments.
Under that charge, Gillenwater is accused of setting fire to grass and vegetation in open wild lands in a eight areas between October 17th and November 1st, 2011, including two fires on County Road 1213, two fires on Concord Gate Road behind the Red River Army Depot, one on County Road 1214, one on County Road 1215 and one on County Road 1236 (Goodson Lane). Gillenwater is also accused of setting an earlier fire on County Road 1216 about a year and a half ago.
Bowie County fire investigator Deputy Scottie Taylor says all the fires are within a two mile radius of Gillenwater's home, and that Gillenwater worked as a volunteer firefighter on all of them.
"He did admit to eight fires and he admitted to using this substance," says Deputy Taylor. "It is used for survival in starting fires." Remnants of that substance were recovered from the scene of the November 1st fire on Concord Gate Road, and investigators say it played a big part in tracking down their suspect.
"It was the hardest arrest I've done in a while," Deputy Taylor says. "I know Mr. Gillenwater fairly well. He has helped us on some fire scenes."
On his arrest report, Gillenwater lists his occupation as a firefighter for the Redwater Volunteer Fire Department. His bond is set at $15,000.00.
Redwater Assistant Fire Chief Merle Luster says Gillenwater has been removed from the roster as a member of the volunteer fire department.
"We don't condone it at all," Luster says. "We were very saddened by this. It's hurtful. Not only to us, but to our community. We just hope they continue to support us in the way they do."
In addition to being a Captain with the Redwater Volunteer Fire Department, he also volunteered with Wake Village. "We were shocked when we learned about it. He had been a solid performer for us. We had no suspicion he would be involved in anything like this. He is a young kid."
Investigators say, at this point, they believe Gillenwater acted alone. There were several suspicious grass fires around the Bowie County town of Maud in September. Gillenwater is not implicated in those wildfires.