Arson suspect often first at fire scenes

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Court documents show that a volunteer firefighter, accused of starting a blaze that scorched more than 600 acres in Elbert County last summer, had reported a fire at the same location three months earlier.

According to a statement given to the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office by Elbert Fire Protection District Chief John Gresham, 19-year-old Alex J. Averett reported a fire on the north side of County Road 102, “across the street” from the June 24 fire, the fire that Averett is accused of setting.

Gresham told Elbert County investigator Joel Heap that Averett called in a fire on March 17, 2012, the same morning his fire department conducted training.

Averett was present for training that morning.

On June 24, ECSO deputies and Elbert Fire were dispatched to a grass fire on the south side of County Road 102, about a mile west of Elbert Road. The fire spread quickly due to high winds and extremely dry conditions.

Gresham and Averett were the first to respond to what became known as the CR-102 Fire.

Averett was pulled off the fire three hours later and treated at the scene for heat-related injuries.

Gresham also told authorities Averett has a history of being the first to arrive and had reported “three other fires of similar circumstance in the last six months.”

Averett was interviewed twice by ECSO, on Aug. 24 and Jan. 31.

Statements given during the Jan. 31 interview indicate that Averett, who had only been with the Elbert Fire Department for six months, admitted to setting the June 24 fire.

While he had hoped the fire would stay smaller, he realized he “messed up and tried to hide it,” according to authorities.

More than 100 fire and law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies responded to the fire at a time when state firefighting resources were strained due to the Waldo Canyon and Hyde Park fires.

Ground crews required assistance from county road and bridge teams, law enforcement personnel, and two single-engine aircraft tankers to contain the fire.

Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap said he will seek restitution on behalf of the ECSO for expenses incurred in connection with the fire.

The Elbert Fire Protection District covers more than 18o square miles and serves 1,500 people.

Averett, a 2011 graduate of Elbert High School, faces felony arson charges and remains in custody.

He will be back in court March 8.