Roan Mountain man indicted in Cherokee Forest arsons

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   A federal grand jury in Greeneville returned a five-count indictment Wednesday against a Carter County man in connection with the deliberate setting of forest fires in Roan Mountain. According to Carter County Sheriff John Henson, the man has confessed to setting fires for the last 30 years.
   Earl C. Lyons, 67, of Railroad Grade, Roan Mountain, is responsible for five fires which destroyed acres of national forest timber and threatened private homes and land adjacent to the Cherokee National Forest, according to Harry S. Mattice Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
   The indictment alleges Lyons willfully and without authority set on fire land owned by the United States within the Cherokee National Forest, including five fires on Whiterock and Railroad Grade over the course of two weeks last November.
   The indictment was the result of an ongoing investigation by the forest service and the sheriff's department. According to Mattice, Sheriff Henson and his deputies were instrumental in determining the source of the fires.
   Henson said his department worked closely with the forest service on this and other cases.
   "We got real hot on the case last fall," Henson said. "I feel like this is a big asset for us to catch this guy and get him off the streets. We've been having fires in that area ever since I've been here with this department. Until now, no one's ever been caught.
   "He has confessed to setting fires in that same area -- Railroad Grade and Roan Mountain area -- for the past 30 years," Henson said. "What led us to him was when we were doing all of the fire security, he was seen at several different locations where there were fires. We began paying attention, and in fact, the officers got their heads together and said, 'Hey, we need to look at this guy.' The forest service picked him up and questioned him and he confessed.
   "It just goes to show you that teamwork does pay off. The only way to curtail crime out here is for everybody to work together," the sheriff said. "I'd most definitely like to express how much I appreciate the forest service and my department ... to catch a person that's been setting fires that long, I just think it's tremendous that we were able to do that."
   Lyons was apprehended last Thursday at his home in Roan Mountain and transported to federal court in Greeneville. He could face further charges, according to the sheriff.
   The forest service signs a yearly contract with the sheriff's department to help them patrol parks and recreation areas located in the county, Henson said.