Volunteer firefighter accused of setting blaze in Idaho forest

SALMON, Idaho Tue Sep 18, 2012 6:50pm EDT

A firefighter carries a chainsaw while watching a burn operation in Boise National Forest near the community of Featherville, Idaho, in this U.S. Forest Service handout image dated August 23, 2012. REUTERS/Kari Greer/U.S. Forest Service/Handout

A firefighter carries a chainsaw while watching a burn operation in Boise National Forest near the community of Featherville, Idaho, in this U.S. Forest Service handout image dated August 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kari Greer/U.S. Forest Service/Handout

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SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A volunteer firefighter in Idaho was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of deliberately setting a forest fire that has destroyed one home and was threatening hundreds of others northeast of Boise, the state capital.

The suspect, Nathaniel Fay Bartholomew, 18, of Boise, was jailed on a single count of arson in connection with a blaze that has charred 250 acres of rugged state-managed Ponderosa pine, brush and grasslands since erupting Monday afternoon, officials said.

No injuries have been reported, but more than 100 homes have been evacuated in a cluster of communities about 10 miles northeast of Boise, U.S. Forest Service spokesman David Olson said.

"This is a tragic fire in many ways," Olson said. "It was a preventable fire. There is a home that was lost and up to hundreds of homes threatened at this point."

A towering column of smoke from the fire was visible from downtown Boise.

The blaze was one of about a dozen fires burning on Tuesday across Idaho, where 1.6 million acres have been consumed by fire this year. That sum is about three times the annual average recorded statewide during the nine-year period from 2002 through 2011, said Emily Nemore, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

There was no immediate word on how fire investigators came to suspect Bartholomew, a volunteer firefighter for Boise County.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Colleen Jenkins and Andrew Hay)

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