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  Fire reward doubled to $50K
By Nelson Zandbergen - AgriNews Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- North Dundas Township is doubling the reward for information leading to the conviction of an arsonist in connection with the area's rash of suspicious fires.

Last October, the township spearheaded a $25,000 reward in partnership with South Dundas, North Stormont, and the United Counties of SD&G, following a series of worrisome fires in the previous six months. A couple of insurance companies also pitched in.

Since then, the number of fires has climbed to more than 20.

Sparked by a troubling surge in the total in just the past few weeks, Mayor Alvin Runnalls announced Monday that North Dundas was raising the bar to $50,000.

"Whatever it takes, we decided to take that effort," Runnalls told The AgriNews. "Basically, it was our decision."

The township is topping up the reward by itself, and isn't looking to the other contributors to help pay for the increase, according to the mayor.

"We weren't asking them at this point; we felt the latest fires were in North Dundas," he said, referring to destructive blazes of undetermined origin March 21, April 15 and April 20.

The first blaze totally consumed the main dairy barn at Jos and Francine Melenhorst's Nesbitt Rd. farm, killing more than 100 cattle. The second and third incidents saw two older, inactive barns in the Morewood area burn to the ground within five days of each other, on County Rd. 3 and Carruthers Rd.

A fourth barn burned Mon., Apirl 30 -- but in South Stormont Township. Thirty-two cattle died at Ken Russell's County Rd. 18 operation, outside Osnabruck Centre, when his dairy barn succumbed to flames. Forty-six animals were saved.

A police press release issued May 3 stated that investiaonton indicatex the fire was of "undetermined origin".

The decision to boost the reward followed an April 24 closed-door meeting between North Dundas Council and police officials. (After the regular public meeting that evening, SD&G OPP Sgt. Brent Mattice and a second officer involved in the fire investigations conspicuously stayed behind for council's in-camera session.)

"I think some people say, why haven't we solved this?" Runnalls observed. "We certainly would like to see this resolved."

While the police aren't willing to say a serial arsonist may be on the loose, that fear is rekindled with each new fire.

"We want those responsible caught and convicted," says the mayor.

Towards that goal, the SD&G OPP continues to staff a confidential, anonymous and toll-free tip-line - 1-866-799-8477 - between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The public may also call their local OPP detachment at any time, at 1-888-310-1122, or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

Officials urge any person with information on the person or persons responsible for these suspicious fires to immediately contact the nearest police agency or any OPP detachment.



Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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