Mulberry Woman Pleads Guilty To Burning Ozark National Forest

FORT SMITH (KFSM) — A Mulberry woman has pleaded guilty to burning about a half-acre of the Ozark National Forest in April.

Shelly Raye Winfrey pleaded guilty Dec. 14 in U.S. District Court to one count of setting fire to public lands, according to federal court documents.

An off-duty Crawford County Sheriff’s Office deputy and another man saw Winfrey get out of her car and ignite a dead pine tree April 9, according to court documents.

The men tried to extinguish the fire but called the Mulberry Fire Department to assist. As the men went deeper into the forest, they found another fire burning about a mile north.

The fire department helped extinguish the second blaze and a third fire that was burning further north. Moments later, officials spotted Winfrey throwing ignited money from her car window, and she was arrested by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

Winfrey set two fires on U.S. Forest Service land and another on private property — but only by a few inches, said Jeff Marvin, chief of the Mulberry Fire Department.

Marvin said his department’s swift response kept the blaze from doing significant damage to the forest.

As part of her plea deal, Winfrey will pay restitution to the fire department, Marvin said. He estimates she’ll owe about $3,000.

U.S. Forest Service

Marvin said the base charge to operate one of the department’s firetrucks is roughly $500 an hour, and three trucks responded to the fires.

The Ozark National Forest is one of three national forests in Arkansas. The other two are the St. Francis and Ouachita national forests.

The Ozark National Forest covers more than 1 million acres, mostly in Northwest Arkansas, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Winfrey is free on a $5,000 bond. Her sentencing hearing has not been set.

Winfrey faces a fine and up to five years in prison for deliberately burning federal land.