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10 volunteer firefighters arrested in Robeson County arson investigation

(WPDE)

Ten volunteer firefighters have been arrested and charged in connection with several arsons in the Fairmont and Orrum areas of Robeson County, according to Robeson County Sheriff Ken Sealey.

Sealey said the firefighters intentionally set fires to abandoned homes and woods, mainly in the Fairmont community.

"Some fires, we had like three and four fires on one road, woods fires, abandoned," explained Sealey. "That's just not, that's real suspicious."

He added these arrests come after a year-long investigation into these suspicious fires.

"It's probably several other individuals that could be arrested and possibly charged with this as well. This is just the first stage of the investigation. It's a large scale investigation, with this many firefighters arrested at one time," said Sealey.

A Maxton police officer and N.C. Department of Corrections officer have also been charged in connection with the special investigation.

Sealey said the arsons cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, but didn't give a specific dollar amount.

"Over hundreds of thousands with all of the property damage, the house damage, the woods fires plus, what it costs for the firefighters going up and down the road," said Sealey.

We asked several firefighters charged if they were guilty of the crimes, but most didn't respond. However, one man called it fraud and wouldn't comment any further.

Sealey released the following statement regarding the investigation:

On July 10, 2018, 10 firefighters were arrested as a result of a 1 year investigation which involves numerous agencies including: Robeson County Sheriff's Office, State Bureau of Investigation, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the North Carolina Forestry Service. The firefighters were involved in a conspiracy over a two year time period to set numerous with woods and abandoned structure fires.
The firefighters are volunteer firefighters at Fairmont and Orrum Fire Department within Robeson County. There are approximately 90 arson related charges in the investigation with more charges and individuals expected.

The names of those charged are listed below:

  • Melquan Williams, 21, of Fairmont. Williams, a former Maxton police officer is charged with one count of felony, arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, one count felony, conspiracy, His bond was set at $200,000.
  • Austin Seth Hunt, 23, of Rowland, who works for the Department of Corrections, is charged with 1 count of felony, setting fire to grass, brush, woods, two counts felony, arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, five counts felony, setting fire to grass, brush, woods and five counts felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $200,000.
  • Ashley Marie Oxendine, 18, of Orrum, is charged with two counts felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, two counts felony conspiracy. Her bond was set at $100,000.
  • John Austin Huggins, 17, of Fairmont, is charged with two counts felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, two counts felony, arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store and four counts felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.
  • Jordan Scott, 19, of Fairmont, is charged with four counts felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, five counts felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, and nine counts felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.
  • Kenny Caulder Jr., 19, of Fairmont, is charged with six counts felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, two counts felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods and seven counts of felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.
  • Willie Fuentes Strickland, 42, of Fairmont, is charged with two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, one count of felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store and three counts of felony, conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.
  • Jordan Emmanuel Hunt, 18, of Fairmont, is charged with four counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, 12 counts of felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.
  • Shellia Huggins, 19, of Fairmont is charged with two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, two counts of felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, and four counts of felony conspiracy. Her bond was set at $100,000.
  • William Kendall Strickland, 18, of Fairmont, NC is charged with one count of misdemeanor larceny, one count of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods and one count of felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.

According to the Robeson County Sheriff's Office, the following are the locations of the fires that were intentionally set:

  • Eldorado Rd., Fairmont, N.C.
  • Collins Mill Rd., Fairmont, N.C.
  • Oakton Church Rd., Fairmont, N.C.
  • Atkinson Road, Fairmont, N.C.
  • Raynham Road, Fairmont, N.C.
  • Reva Road, Fairmont, N.C.
  • NC Highway 130, Fairmont, N.C.
  • Main Street, Fairmont, N.C.
  • Mitchell Rd., Fairmont, N.C.
  • Davis Road, Fairmont, N.C.
  • Happy Hill Road, Fairmont, N.C.
  • Marion Stage Road, Fairmont, N.C.
  • Pleasant Hope Road, Fairmont, N.C.

We'll bring you updates on this as they come in.

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