Rash of Barn Burnings Plaguing N. Buncombe - TribPapers

Rash of Barn Burnings Plaguing N. Buncombe

Bales of hay, intended for winter livestock feed, smolder in this arson-damaged barn near Leicester.

North Buncombe High – The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and multiple other state and local law enforcement agencies are investigating a series of fires that have destroyed or damaged several North Buncombe barns in recent days.

Four barn fires and a substantial grass fire occurred in the neighborhoods of Leicester, Sandy Mush and Newfound. Damaged or destroyed were a landmark neighborhood barn as well as three other barns and a season’s harvest of hay intended for animal feed this coming winter.  Affected farmers are still tallying the number of burned or ruined hay bales and say that the count could reach as high as several hundred.

Fires were reported on Worley Cove Road, Maillon King Road, Old Newfound Road at Gouches Branch Road, and Gilbert Road at Turkey Creek Road (see photo).

No injuries were reported in connection with the fires.

Agencies assisting the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office with its ongoing investigation include fire marshals from Buncombe County, the City of Asheville and the town of Weaverville; representatives from the North Carolina State Fire Marshal’s office; the State Bureau of Investigation’s arson unit; and the Law Enforcement Division of the U.S. Forest Service.

The burnings began early on the morning of Wednesday, November 3. A nearby property owner reported hearing “a really loud bang” about 6:20 a.m. and looked out to see a  neighborhood barn engulfed in flames.  Residents say the 80-year-old barn was a neighborhood landmark. The owners, who requested anonymity, said the barn was not insured and thus the family’s financial loss would be considerable since both the barn and its contents were destroyed.  In all, 80 bales of hay were consumed.

That’s a whole winter’s worth of feed for our animals,” the owner said.

An early consensus among first responders was that the fires were set by the same person or persons, since they all were reported within a very short period of time and were all located within about a three-mile radius.  

“Somebody was just out there having themselves a field day,” one LEO told the Tribune. 

In adjacent Haywood County, authorities warned local residents to be alert for suspicious activity.

Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher told an interviewer, “Some of our fire departments offered mutual aid [in containing the fires]. The fires caused some alarm in Haywood because they were in the Leicester area, close to our area,” he said.

The hamlet of Leicester lies along Highway 63, about 11 miles northwest of Asheville in what many consider to be some of the prettiest countryside in Western North Carolina.  The surrounding area is open, rolling farmland with little place for concealment.  It’s a place where neighbors look out for each other — have done so, in some cases, for generations.  

Police Update Public

As of Sunday, police have not apprehended or questioned any suspects.  One eyewitness, some distance from one of the fires, reported seeing a woman getting into what could have been a light-colored van and leaving the scene of one fire. 

The Buncombe County Farm Bureau is now offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.  A year ago, almost to the day, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office announced the appointment of a new Arson Investigator. Since that time, the Sheriff’s Office says arson-related arrests comprise of 33% of cases, as opposed to only 7% in 2019.

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