Adam Blythe was getting a late-night snack in his kitchen Thursday night when he noticed something peculiar in the Ohio River that runs behind his backyard.
He saw a boat with very bright amber lights puttering along the shore of Henderson Island. Blythe, an avid river watcher who takes notice of almost everything that passes on the water, focused on the watercraft. He at first thought the people on the boat were bowfishing because he’d seen similar crafts do that in the past.
But then the three people in the boat began shining a spotlight on the island. Blythe then thought the trio might be involved in some illegal hunting.
He said they went up and down the Kentucky side of the island shore for about 20 minutes.
Blythe said as soon as he turned off his kitchen light, the boat beelined it to the beach. One of the people, holding what appeared to be a 5-gallon container, jumped out of the boat and scurried up the embankment.
Blythe said he “could see him dumping something” from the container. He said the person dumped it along the embankment and then beyond it, on the inner area of the island.
Moments later, Blythe said he heard a man in the boat yell, “Fire! Fire!” Quickly a torch lit up and another person was lighting the areas where the other had dumped fluid from the container. Blythe said.
Within three minutes, both had returned from the island and were back in the boat, which began moving toward downtown Henderson, Blythe said.
Blythe began video recording it when the torch lit, and he has multiple photos of the blaze as it grew.
He believes the people were “trying to burn that island down.”
“What else would they be doing?” he said.
He watched the boat travel upstream at about 3-5 miles per hour, but right around the Viterra granary, he said the boat shut off its engine. Blythe said that most likely the men saw the lights of the first responders at the downtown boat ramp.
Blythe, in the middle of filming, had also called dispatch. He said first responders were out on the water quickly.
“That response time was impressive,” he said.
The fire spread quickly, most likely hastened by dry weather and windy conditions. Blythe estimated at least one acre was on fire by the time firefighters arrived. A release from the Henderson City/County Rescue Squad estimated the area engulfed to be 4-5 acres at the time of arrival.
The Henderson Fire Department, Henderson City/County Rescue Squad, Henderson Police Department, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, Smith Mills Fire Dept. and Black Township Fire Dept. assisted, according to the release.
Crews arrived at about 11:25 p.m. Thursday and the scene was cleared at 4:45 a.m. Friday, the release said.
Blythe said a previous fire occurred on Henderson Island on Sept. 17.
The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the fire. Sheriff Chip Stauffer said Saturday afternoon that no arrests have been made but people of interest have been identified. He said investigators have obtained video and are attempting to make identification of the people in the boat.