Wisconsin (Eric Litke-The Sheboygan Press) – A volunteer firefighter was charged today with setting a fire at Walvoord’s Berry Farm that leveled two buildings, killed two dogs and destroyed thousands of dollars in equipment.
Sean M. Bradley, 26, of Cedar Grove, told investigators he set the fire out of boredom,choosing the barn at random as he drove around with lighter fluid looking for a building to burn, a criminal complaint said. He was part of the Cedar Grove Fire Department and was among the firefighters who responded to the blaze Aug. 9 at W2160 Smies Road in the Town of Holland.
Bradley could face up to 25 years in prison on a felony count of arson. He made an initial court appearance today and was ordered held in lieu of a $15,000 cash bond.
Cedar Grove Fire Chief Greg Navis said Bradley had been with the department for two years and remained active until his arrest Monday night. Navis said it is frustrating knowing one of his own men is allegedly responsible for the fire, but he declined further comment.
“It is just kind of all fresh,” said Navis, who was unaware until Monday night that Bradley was a suspect.
The barn fire started between 11:45 p.m. and midnight and drew eight area fire departments, officials said. The complaint said Randall Walvoord, who owns the barn and the rest of the berry farm, looked outside after hearing popping sounds and saw the orange glow from the blaze.
Walvoord told police he first ran to the north side of the barn where his two dogs were housed, but he was unable to get at them due to the intense heat.
Walvoord then began moving equipment away from the barn, at one point suffering a burn to his arm from brushing against a red-hot tractor while moving it away from the flames. Items destroyed in the barn included irrigation pumps, tractors, four-wheelers, a walk-in cooler, cash registers and 100 bales of hay.
Walvoord said he expected insurance to cover only $10,000 to $20,000 worth of the losses, the complaint said. The fire leveled the main barn and a smaller building to the west.
Investigators found a mostly empty lighter fluid bottle in the road nearby and tracked it to Walmart, the only local retailer that sells that brand. Bradley was then identified as a suspect, and the complaint said he admitted to setting the barn fire during an interview Monday.
Bradley, 126 S. Main St., told police he was with his son at his parent’s house in Cedar Grove the night of the fire. At about 11:30 p.m. he left the house alone in his parents’ car. He said he was bored and looking around for some kind of building to burn.
Bradley said he decided on the Walvoord’s barn after checking to make sure there was no livestock or anything of value inside, the complaint said.
He sprayed lighter fluid on a wall and lit it, but after watching it burn for a while decided it was a bad idea and extinguished the flames with his jacket. Bradley said he then soaked the hot boards using a water bottle from his car and drove away believing the fire was out.
The complaint makes no reference to a second fire in the Walvoord family.
A smaller granary burned to the ground Aug. 27 at a property about a mile away owned by Marian Walvoord, Randall Walvoord’s mother. The granary, located at N1509 Highway 32, contained a few pieces of farm machinery, and 10 area fire departments were called to that scene.
Capt. Dave Adams of the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department said at the time that the barn owners being related “makes it suspicious, with that proximity of time and location.” Adams declined to say today whether the fires are believed to be related.
“We are going to let the criminal complaint speak for itself,” he said. “Any other investigations are considered open and pending.”
Bradley is the second volunteer firefighter charged with arson in Sheboygan County this year. Andrew M. Edler, 18, of Waldo, was charged in April with two counts of arson for allegedly setting fire to two sheds in the Town of Lima. How the hell common is this?
Edler told police he thought it would be “cool” to set the fires because he hadn’t been on a fire call lately, a complaint said. Charges against Edler and one alleged accomplice are pending, while a second accomplice has received a deferred conviction agreement.