Bristow man is charged in Creek County wildfires
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2012
9/20/12 at 7:10 AM
See photo slideshows of the fire and its damage, view aerial video from Saturday’s inferno and read previous stories.
Related story: Fire aid deadline nears.
SAPULPA - A 36-year-old Bristow man has been charged with starting the devastating wildfires that burned 58,500 acres, destroyed 376 homes and left hundreds of people homeless last month.
Billy Cloud is charged with a third-degree arson felony count that accuses him of maliciously causing the burning of more than 50,000 acres, numerous residences and other structures in Creek County valued at more than $1 million.
The blaze, which started Aug. 2, resulted in the massive outbreak of wildfires that firefighters battled for more than a week during an intense drought and extreme triple-digit temperatures.
Alternatively, Cloud is charged with unlawful burning of grass and woodlands during a burn ban.
"Since we don't know the mental state of the accused, we'll let a judge and jury make that decision," said Assistant District Attorney Mike Loeffler.
Cloud had not been arrested as of Wednesday evening.
The investigation was conducted by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Creek County Sheriff's Office.
The burn ban violation, a felony, would carry a penalty of up to three years in prison.
The arson charge requires that maliciousness be shown and has a penalty of up to 10 years.
A discarded cigarette and alcohol were involved in the incident, according to an affidavit filed by Sheriff's Deputy Les Ruhman.
The affidavit describes a night of heavy drinking by Cloud family members, a cigarette thrown on the ground and a fire that became uncontrollable.
According to the affidavit, Sheriff's Deputy Scott Forrester was called Aug.2 to a rural Bristow residence, where he noticed a large column of smoke and a large fire involving grass and trees.
Forrester requested assistance from the Freedom Hill and Drumright volunteer fire departments.
A neighbor who was fighting off flames from her own property told Forrester that some of the "drunk family next door was outside drinking beer and caused the fire from their cigarettes," the affidavit states.
As Forrester continued to the Cloud property, which had two or three homes, he discovered a burning residence that was collapsing.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs Fire Service was battling the flames with two brush trucks.
While there, Forrester came upon a shirtless Billy Cloud, who told Forrester he didn't know what happened and that he was at his home drinking beer with his family, the document states.
One of the family members, Benny Cloud, told Forrester that the burning residence was his and his mother's home, the affidavit says.
When asked again what happened, Billy Cloud told Forrester that "two of my cousins were here drinking with us and threw their cigarettes into the grass in the yard, starting the fire," according to the affidavit.
When Forrester asked Billy Cloud who his cousins were, he said the property was "restricted" and that Forrester had no business being there, the affidavit says.
Creek Nation blood identification cards were shown, and the Creek Nation Light Horse Tribal Police were then called to determine whether the property was restricted or Indian land.
Forrester was then informed that the property was restricted.
Forrester soon had to leave "to prevent being trapped inside the fire," according to the affidavit.
It was later discovered that the Cloud property was not restricted.
Five days later on Aug. 7, Forrester and Detective Matt Greco interviewed a neighbor who said an allegedly intoxicated Billy Cloud had come running up to her home on the day of the fire.
"Billy told (the neighbor) that they were smoking a cigarette and threw it down and it went 'woo' as he spread his hands apart," the affidavit says.
On Aug. 8, authorities gained access to a federal Bureau of Indian Affairs report prepared by fire planner Scott Bradshaw, which showed that the point of origin was in front of Billy Cloud's residence.
A cigarette butt, which Bradshaw said started the fire, was taken into evidence.
According to the affidavit, Dustin Cloud said he, Benny Cloud and Billy Cloud had been in the residence when Billy Cloud went outside. When he came back in, he told them there was a fire.
"Dustin and Billy tried to put the fire out but it was spreading too fast.
Billy then told Dustin that he had been outside putting a cigarette out when it started a fire," the affidavit says.
Light Horse Police Officer Matthew Henneha evacuated the Clouds from the area on the day of the fire, the document says.
Hundreds of Creek County residents would be evacuated by authorities over the course of the next two days.
"Henneha advised that Benny Cloud and Billy Cloud were sitting on the couch drinking beer as if nothing was going on outside. Henneha tried to talk to them but was unable to understand them," the affidavit said.
Records show that Billy Cloud has a history of alcohol-related charges in several counties, including Creek, Okmulgee and Tulsa.
He also has several outstanding warrants for failure to appear and failure to pay fines.
Original Print Headline: Charges filed in wildfires
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Billy Cloud: A discarded cigarette and alcohol were involved in the incident, according to an affidavit filed by Sheriff's Deputy Les Ruhman