COLUMBUS, Ohio – A fire department administrator and former 911 dispatcher has been charged federally with crimes related to at least 24 arson fires since spring 2022 in Wayne National Forest.

James A. Bartels, 50, of Patriot, Ohio, was arrested yesterday and appeared in federal court in Columbus.

Bartels is an administrator at the Greenfield Township Volunteer Fire Department. He also served as a 911 dispatcher for Gallia County.

According to an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint, Ohio Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officers observed a truck registered to Bartels near Wayne National Forest on Oct. 29, 2022. Bartels was observed on Dry Ridge Road. Within an hour, a fire was reported in the forest near Dry Ridge Road and Cauley Creek Road.

In the days after Bartels’s November 8 resignation from working as a 911 dispatcher for Gallia County, at least 17 fires were lit. Bartels was seen at two separate locations in the vicinity of multiple fire starts within minutes of their ignition.

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The affidavit details that in a law enforcement interview, Bartels admitted to starting the fires with a lighter to “give the boys something to do” and to distract himself from depression. He identified 24 arson fires for which he was responsible. His truck’s infotainment system data also placed him at the locations of the fires.

Bartels is schedule for a preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court on January 3, 2023, in Columbus.

Willfully committing arson is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and the U.S. Forest Service announced the charges. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael J. Hunter is representing the United States in this case.

A criminal complaint merely contains allegations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.