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Iola man charged with starting fires


Nearly 10 acres burned in two days

David J. Engel-DeFord, 30, Iola, is charged with seven counts each of intentionally setting a fire to another person’s land, negligent handling of burning materials and setting a fire that started a forest fire.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 13, wardens and rangers with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources responded to five fires within a 30-minute time span.

The fires occurred in rural Iola, on Engebretson, Ness, Brandt and Roosevelt roads.

Two more fires were reported for a total of seven that burned nearly 10 acres of land total.

Due to the proximity of the fires to each other, the DNR suspected arson.

According to the criminal complaint, a black pickup truck had been seen in the vicinity of one of the fires. The license plate was registered to Dave’s Auto Repair in Iola and commonly operated by Engel-DeFord.

At about 2 p.m. April 13, Waupaca County deputies located the suspect truck and Engel-DeFord at Manawa Elementary School.

Due to the presence of Engel-DeFord and law enforcement, Manawa Elementary School was placed in lockdown, the complaint says.

Police interview

Engel-DeFord was taken to the Manawa police station to be interviewed.

“Over the course of the interview, Engel-DeFord stated several facts indicating his knowledge about starting fires, how fires spread, accelerants related to fires, and his background with family members in the firefighting community,” according to the complaint.
He initially denied starting the fires, then later reportedly admitted responsibility for them.

“Engel-DeFord recalled in detail the scene of each fire location, including parking at each location, walking to the ‘driest spot’ at each location, ‘blacking out’ after looking at the ‘driest spot,’ then ‘coming to’ at which point he described what the fire initially looked like and size of it prior to it spreading and him leaving the area,” the complaint says.

At the time the fires were set, Waupaca County was under a red flag warning for extremely high risk of fire.

When asked why he started the fires, Engel-DeFord reportedly told investigators that he is known to do things without knowing why and without thinking.

Released on a $2,000 signature bond, Engel-DeFord is scheduled for an adjourned initial appearance before Judge Troy Nielsen on May 30.

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