Bristow Man Charged With Arson In Tragic Creek County Wildfires

Wednesday, September 19th 2012, 4:50 pm
By: News On 6

Creek County prosecutors on Wednesday filed a third-degree arson charge in response to August's tragic wildfires.

Billy Cloud, 36, of Bristow, is accused of tossing a lighted cigarette onto the grass during a statewide burn ban. He is wanted on a $40,000 bond.

The felony arson charge states Cloud willfully and maliciously caused the burning in excess of 50,000 acres and numerous residences and other structures, with a value of more than $1 million.

Court documents allow for an alternate charge of unlawful burning, also a felony, and prosecutors said they will leave it up to the jury to decide.

"We looked at this for quite some time," Creek County District Attorney Max Cook said. "We felt like this was the appropriate charge, or these were the appropriate charges to proceed on.'' 

The wildfires burned for six days, scorching 90 square miles and destroying nearly 400 homes in the path. Several towns were evacuated and relief efforts are expected to continue into the unforeseeable future.

"It burned a couple of my buildings and it burned my daughter's home down," Caroll Hurt said.

The smoke has settled at Hurt's house, but the frustration surrounding how the authorities claim the Creek County fires started has not.

"It's foolish," she said. "If you're going to smoke, be responsible for it."

A joint investigation between the Creek County Sheriff's Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs was ongoing for more than a month.

If convicted of third-degree arson, Cloud faces fines up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in the state penitentiary.

He previously has been convicted of alcohol-related offenses.

Read the detailed information sheet filed by an investigating deputy

On Aug. 2, a Creek County deputy responded to a report that kids started a fire and ran into the woods near 401st West Avenue, a document says. The deputy reported he was met by a woman fighting the fire around her property who told him Cloud was part of the "drunk family next door… outside drinking beer and caused the fire from their cigarettes."

The deputy located Cloud, who was standing outside without a shirt and "didn't know that he was [at] his own house," the document said.

Billy Cloud told the deputy that "two of my cousins [were] here drinking with us and threw their cigarettes into the grass."

When the deputy asked for identity of the cousins, Billy Cloud said the property was "restricted" tribal land and told the deputy to leave, the document said. 

The document also states an officer later tried to evacuate the Cloud family because of the raging fire surrounding nearby properties, but found Cloud and his brother, Benny, "sitting on the couch drinking beer as [if] nothing was going on outside." The men were unable to understand officers' pleas, the report said.

See complete Oklahoma Wildfire coverage

Investigators returned to the area on Aug. 7 and interviewed a witness who told them Billy Cloud was intoxicated the day the fires began. The witness said Billy Cloud admitted to her that he was "smoking a cigarette and threw it down and it went ‘Woo,'" and then spread his hands apart to demonstrate fire spreading, the document said.

According to a report dated Aug. 8, Bureau of Indian Affairs Fire Planner Scott Bradshaw conducted an investigation into the fire's origin, which pointed to the residence where Billy Cloud had been interviewed by the deputy. A cigarette butt near the home was taken into evidence, and Bradshaw declared it the cause of the fire, the report says.

In addition, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Realty Trust Services reported the property was not restricted land, which opened Billy Cloud to face the arson charge in state court rather than in tribal court.