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Two men charged with unlawful burning on land owned by the U.S. Wildlife Trust

After an investigation by an agent from the state’s agriculture department, two men are now facing four felony counts of unlawful burning on land belonging to The Humane Society of U.S. Wildlife Trust in north central Arkansas.

The Stone County Circuit Court documents note the two men are accused of starting four fires — two on Jan. 20, 2021 and two on March 10, 2021 — along Flag Road on land belonging to the trust. The men are identified as Jayson N. Cary, 41, of Leslie, Ark., and Paul R. Branscum, 47, of Fox, Ark.

Authorities reported in the court information they have received numerous calls and complaints from area residents over the last two years who say fires have been started in the woodlands. Many of those residents alleged Cary was one of the culprits, according to the circuit court documents.

According to the arrest affidavit, Arkansas Department of Agriculture Agent Russell Lancaster started gathering evidence by studying video surveillance and interviewing residents of the affected areas.

In an interview with agents from the state agriculture department, Branscum admitted he and Cary started fires in the region, telling authorities he usually drove Cary during the times they allegedly ignited the fires, the court info said. Branscum also told authorities that Cary started most of the fires, but he — Branscum — also started some as well, investigators said.

The four felony counts of unlawful burning filed against Cary and Branscum carry a sentence of three to 10 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

The circuit court information also noted that both men were each placed on a bond of $20,000, however, Cary’s bond was later increased by Judge Tim Weaver from that amount to a cash or professional bond of $500,000.

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