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Fires targeting property of police, firefighters in Arkansas

COTTON PLANT, Ark. >> Authorities in a small Arkansas town say local police and firefighters are being targeted by suspicious fires and vandalism.

No suspects have been arrested for the fires and property damage in Cotton Plant that began in February, when a fire destroyed a firefighter’s rental home, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Other firefighters said their personal vehicles and an emergency van have been vandalized, and someone used gasoline to start a fire inside the local police department this month, Mayor Willard Ryland said. The latest fire occurred Sunday and damaged the home Chief Jason Johnston recently purchased for his mother.

Johnston said he was numb when he and other volunteer firefighters responded to the fire.

“I was hurt. When I saw it I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ I called for mutual aid to put the fire out. I was too sick to fight it myself,” Johnston said.

Ryland noted there was an ongoing investigation into a string of burglaries when the police department fire broke out. The fire destroyed a computer and a box of police investigation reports.

There was some tension in the town after Ryland fired Johnston last year. Johnston was reinstated by the City County, but the mayor said some firefighters quite in protest when Johnston returned.

Local police have asked Arkansas State Police to take over the investigation.

“I am waiting for the experts to tell us what’s going on,” police Chief Ritchie Haggans said.

Cotton Plant, a town of about 650 residents, is roughly 70 miles northeast of Little Rock.

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