ELMORE COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - A firefighter has gone from battling fires in his community to being accused of setting one, and officials say he could be responsible for other suspicious blazes.
Recent fires have sparked concern in the Deatsville area.
Now, the assistant chief of the town's volunteer fire department has found himself at the center of the investigation.
Chad Ellis, 28, of Deatsville, was arrested Tuesday by the State Fire Marshal's Office and booked into the Elmore County Jail for arson.
Tips from the community the volunteer firefighter serves helped lead to a break in the case out of Deatsville, where Ellis serves as assistant chief.
There have been four suspicious blazes in recent months at vacant homes, all within several miles of each other.
The most recent fire happened on Aug 6 in the 6100 block of Deatsville Highway. Other locations include homes on Montgomery-Montevallo Road, Ingram Road and Sweet William Lane.
The cases have left Deatsville residents on edge, fearing a serial arsonist at work in their neighborhoods and wondering where and when the culprit or culprits could strike next.
State Fire Marshal Scott Pilgreen said Chad Ellis is responsible for at least one of the fires. He's charged with one count of arson second degree. The investigation is ongoing with the assistance of the Elmore County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office.
"I'm reluctant to elaborate any further on any details of the investigation," Marshal Pilgreen stated.
He confirmed that Chad Ellis is not only second in command in the Deatsville VFD, but he's also related to Chief Charles Ellis, though he declined to release the exact relationship.
A motive is not known and officials did not indicate if Ellis responded with members of his volunteer fire department to help extinguish any of the recent fires.
It's not the first time Pilgreen has seen a firefighter charged with arson.
"It has happened in the past and other times and places in the state. We'll just have to let the investigation unfold to determine what the factors were in this particular instance," he added.
In the past, two members of the Pike Road Volunteer Fire Department were charged with arson in connection with a string of 2006 fires.
Larry Adair is one of the property owners in Deatsville forced to deal with damage and losses after the recent rash of fires. He says a couch was set ablaze inside the home he was getting ready to remodel on Montgomery-Montevallo Road. It burned in April. He thinks whoever was responsible spent time scoping out the area for vacant homes and expressed fears that someone could get seriously hurt.
"All of our belongings went down the tube. We were planning on getting it all fixed up to where we could move into it, but now all that's gone. We are planning to rebuild and soon, I hope. t's just such a tragic loss for no apparent reason," Adair said.
Fire officials say important information has surfaced from neighborhoods that were impacted and helped build the case.
"I want to thank the residents of the Deatsville and Elmore County area for their assistance in this investigation," Marshal Pilgreen said. "There's some information that come to us from the community and we appreciate that. We just ask that if anybody else has any information, that they let us know."
Anyone with information is asked to call Alabama's Arson Hotline at 1-800-654-0775.
According to Alabama code, a person commits the crime of arson in the second degree "if he intentionally damages a building by starting or maintaining a fire or causing an explosion." It is a Class B felony.