Homeless man admits to causing Friday’s Big Pine Key brush fire, cops say

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A man was arrested late Friday night on a charge of malicious land burning in the same area where a brush fire flared up on Big Pine Key earlier in the evening.

The fire started around 7 p.m. around 24th Lane and Wilder Road. It came four days after firefighters knocked down a massive brush fire that burned for eight days, charred 72 acres and destroyed one house on the Lower Key. Wynn Edgar Messenger, 49, was arrested around 11 p.m. by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Wilder Road, according to an FWC arrest reports.

He was booked into county jail on felony land burning and misdemeanor failure to control a dangerous fire.

According to the FWC affidavit, Messenger, a homeless man who lives in the woods, admitted to officers he set a fire in a Winn Dixie shopping cart near his encampment and it got out of control. The fire burned about a half an acre, said Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Linhardt.

Monroe County Fire Rescue Chief James Callahan said the bulk of the fire was put out within an hour, but his men and women continued to douse hot spots throughout the night and into Saturday morning.

Despite quickly getting on top of the blaze, Callahan said he initially feared it was going to be a repeat of the one that began April 22, which spread due to high winds and was fueled by the massive debris and vegetation left behind by September’s Hurricane Irma.

“The wind was blowing again about 15 knots,” Callahan said Saturday morning.

Conditions in the wooded areas of Big Pine remain ripe for brush fires, he said.

“It’s going to be something we’re going to be dealing with for a while,” Callahan said.


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