Today, investigators with the state’s Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement (OALE) obtained an arrest warrant for Allen Smith of Santa Rosa Beach for May 5, 2020, Mussett Bayou wildfire in Walton County.
Allen Smith was subsequently located and arrested in reference to the active arrest warrant and was booked into the Walton County jail without incident. Bond was set at $5,000, according to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.
“Recklessly burning illegal materials puts lives, lands, and property at risk. When that occurs, it’s our responsibility to take swift action and bring perpetrators to justice, just as has happened here,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “Our hearts are with everyone who lost homes in this tragic fire. We’re thankful for the diligence of our Agricultural Law Enforcement officers and investigators and our Florida Forest Service wildland firefighters, and for the partnership of Walton County Sheriff Adkinson and his team.”
Investigation: On the evening of May 5, 2020, OALE began an investigation into a wildfire that occurred earlier that day in the vicinity of Mussett Bayou Road in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida in Walton County.
The final estimated acreage indicates the fire burned approximately 343 acres of wildlands and damaged or destroyed approximately 59 homes in the area.
Upon arrival, OALE Investigators conducted an Origin and Cause investigation which led them to 480 Mussett Bayou Drive. Additionally, OALE Investigators conducted a neighborhood canvass and interviewed multiple witnesses related to the fire and associated property damage.
Results: Upon OALE Investigators completing their investigation into the Origin and Cause of the fire, they were able to determine that Allen Smith (58) of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida had been burning illegal/prohibited materials in a burn barrel at the rear of his property located at 480 Mussett Bayou Drive on May 5th, 2020.
The investigation further revealed that Smith did not fully extinguish the illegal fire completely before leaving the burn barrel unattended. The investigation determined the remaining hot materials inside the burn barrel escaped into the surrounding dry vegetation causing the vegetation to ignite. The dry vegetative conditions and weather patterns observed on this day allowed the fire to rapidly spread out of control causing extensive damage to wildlands and homes in the surrounding area.
Florida State Statute 590.28 (2), Reckless burning of Lands for 1(one) count, a 2nd-degree misdemeanor.
Florida State Statute 403.161(1)(b), Open burning requirements for 1(one) count, a 1st-degree misdemeanor.
Florida State Statute 403.161 (1)(b), Burning of illegal materials, 1(one) count, a 1st-degree misdemeanor.