Mississippi ‘mayhem’: Man accused of sparking dozens of fires

Published 9:36 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Tallahatchie County man allegedly caused thousands of dollars in damages to private property and county roads Monday afternoon before he was stopped on Bethlehem Road. He left Panola County with a considerable number of citations and expenses related to the incident that involved dozens of firefighters, Sheriff’s deputies, Batesville police, and Emergency Operations Management staff.

Bailey Blake Jenkins, 26, of Oakland, was charged with improper equipment, reckless driving, and no insurance according to Sgt. Chantryce Morris, who wrote the tickets on Bethlehem, near Brewer Rd.

“He will remember this mistake for a long time,” said EOM Director Daniel Cole. “He said he was unaware he had caused any problems when I told him he had left about twenty fires from the time he entered our county until we finally tracked him down and got him stopped. I guess he never bothered to look in the rear-view mirror.”

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What his rear-view mirror would have shown, Cole said, was sparks flying from the axle of a dilapidated camper the Oakland man was dragging to Sardis where he intended to sell it at Martin Bros. Scrap Metal.

Cole said from the time Jenkins entered Panola County on Hwy. 51S near Enid dispatchers began receiving calls about grass fires along the highway. Cole’s office, along with the Sheriff’s Office and Batesville P.D. were able to track his route from calls reporting grass fires.

He traveled from Hwy. 51 to Pope-Water Valley Rd., then to Chapel Hill, Hentz, McNeely, Woodruff, Good Hope, across Hwy. 6 to Bethlehem and toward Hwy. 35 before he was stopped.

“He wanted to keep going, but I told him that his camper wasn’t moving until it left on a rollback,” Cole said. “We had volunteer firefighters scrambling all over this county and we nearly lost at least one structure because of his actions.”

Cole said he was unsure whether county officials, or private landowners, would make additional filings for recovery of damages, but confirmed that several pastures were burned, and some county roads were affected.

“It was a combination of negligence and improper equipment,” Cole said.

Jenkins allegedly caused the damage while dragging an old camper on the roadways. Whether he started the trip with tires on the camper is unclear, but by the time he got to Panola County the back of the camper was dragging on the axle.

This caused sparks to fly on both sides of the road, igniting fires along the way. Rangers with the Mississippi Forestry Commission were cutting fire lanes in southeast Panola and joined the effort to put out the largest of the conflagrations.

Cole said the camper appeared to be attached to a pickup truck with a small pin and a ratchet strap

“I don’t know how it stayed on the truck,” he said.

One residence was almost caught by the blazes, and several outbuildings and other structures were put in danger. Cole said firefighters were called back to several hot spots along the route during the night, and even on Tuesday afternoon were still responding to fires that had started again.

“It is dry, very dry,” Cole said. “It’s very dangerous right now in Panola County because these grass fires will spread super quick. We just need everybody to pay close attention and absolutely no burning right now unless it falls under one of the allowed exemptions.”

Cole said until conditions improve, all grass and brush fires that are called in not only have the volunteer department in that district called, but also the neighboring districts.

“My hat is off to the many firefighters who helped during this ordeal,” Cole said. “It wasn’t just go and squirt a little water, we had fires everywhere and they kept coming back. We have a great group of volunteers in this county and they proved it Monday.”

Cole said one firefighter was burned and referred to burn specialists by local medical authorities.

-The Panolian