A serial forest arsonist has been arrested and charged with setting at least seven woods fires during the month of May in Ware County, said Ware County Sheriff Randy Royal.
An investigation led to Eric Lee Westberry, 41, formerly of the 3600 block of Augusta Springs Road, who has apparently recently been living in Pirece County. He is facing charges on the seven fires, Royal said, adding that the investigation is continuing and more charges are possible.
Westberry is in jail in Blackshear on drug possession charges, Royal said. He is to be transferred to the Ware County jail, said Royal.
The Georgia Forestry Commission secured seven felony arrest warrants for woodland arson in connection with the fires that occurred in Ware County about a month ago, said Royal.
A total of 13 woodland arson fires have been under investigation this year in Ware and surrounding counties, Royal said. He said Westberry is a potential suspect in all of them.
There were seven fires in Ware County, five in Charlton County and one in Brantley County, Royal said, and the total acreage scorched was less than 100.
Billy Leitch, assistant chief law enforcement officer with the Georgia Forestry Commission, began investigating the fires, along with Ware County detectives, almost immediately after they were reported, said Royal.
Leitch was able to identify the unique method used to set the fires and identified a description of the vehicle the suspect was driving, based on witness statements, on the day the first of the fires was set, May 11, said Royal.
Leitch presented the information to Ware County detectives, and a multi-jurisdictional memo was prepared for a particular type of vehicle, said Royal. On the afternoon of the last day of fires occurring in Ware County, a vehicle matching that of the lookout description was stopped by Ware County Deputy Sheriff Travis Stauffer.  Royal said detectives photographed the vehicle and the driver, Newberry, and Deputy Stauffer completed a thorough field interview.
Based on the information, leads were followed up on by Leitch which placed the driver, Westberry, in the vicinity of all the fires. Royal said Detective Hope Salinas assisted Leitch in conducting background and working various aspects of the investigation into the fires.
“After Stauffer’s traffic stop, it is believed Westberry moved from the Augusta Springs Road address to a Pierce County location,” said Royal. “Chief Leitch obtained several search warrants in Ware and Pierce counties, the most recent of which were executed Friday. When the search warrants were executed, illegal items were found at Westberry’s residence in Pierce County and Westberry was charged in Pierce County for those items, which mainly consisted of drugs.”
On Saturday, Leitch obtained seven warrants for Westberry stemming from the Ware County woodland fires, Royal said.
A hold was placed on Westberry (pending the drug case in Pierce County), and he is to later be transferred to the Ware County jail.
The arson fires occurred on May 11 (two fires) on U.S. 1 South, May 12 (two fires) on Washington Avenue and Thigpen Road, and May 13 (three fires) on Lloyd Strickland Road, Braganza Loop and U.S. 1 South, said Royal.
The investigation is ongoing and charges in the other counties’ fires are possible.
“I am proud of the excellent spirit of cooperation between Assistant Chief Leitch and my detectives in working on these incidents,” said Royal. “The quick actions by Georgia Forestry Commission and Ware County deputies has truly reached a quick conclusion to safeguard lives and property in Ware County. I’m glad this situation was resolved before any loss of life or serious injury.
“The Ware County Fire Department did a truly outstanding job in extinguishing these fires so quickly, which could have escalated out of control.  I would also like to personally thank Georgia Forestry Commission, the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Ware County Fire-Rescue, and other area firefighters for all that they have done and the resources they allocated to combat this.”