A 58-year-old man was arrested Tuesday in connection to the Mussett Bayou wildfire that destroyed 59 homes and 343 acres of wildlands in Walton County.
Allen Smith of Santa Rosa Beach is accused by investigators with the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement of burning prohibited materials in a barrel behind his property on May 5, the day the wildfire began.
Authorities said an investigation into the cause of the blaze led them to Smith’s home, where they later determined that he failed to fully extinguish the fire before leaving the barrel unattended, allowing the contents to escape from the container and spread to the surrounding vegetation.
“Recklessly burning illegal materials puts lives, lands, and property at risk,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “When that occurs, it’s our responsibility to take swift action and bring perpetrators to justice, just as has happened here.”
Smith was arrested without incident by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and charged with three misdemeanors including reckless burning of lands. He was booked into the Walton County Jail on a $5,000 bond.
The Mussett Bayou fire is one of 92 active wildfires across Florida. Fire officials said extremely low humidity, high winds, and drought have helped fuel the recent fire activity and are urging residents to be mindful of the conditions