Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Man Charged in '98 Wildfire Ponte Vedran Says Fireworks Started Accidental Flagler Blaze

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Man Charged in '98 Wildfire Ponte Vedran Says Fireworks Started Accidental Flagler Blaze

Article excerpt

PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- A St. Johns County man who was playing with a homemade pipe bomb in bone-dry woods last year has been charged with igniting a Flagler County wildfire that destroyed 20 homes and damaged 18 others.

Kevin Byrd Hill, 47, of Ponte Vedra Beach is accused of firing off a 2-inch-long homemade firecracker near Palm Coast and starting the June 6, 1998, wildfire, which raged through the Seminole Woods subdivision.

The Flagler fire was the first of the massive and catastrophic blazes in Central Florida during last year's disastrous fire season.

Hill admitted to authorities that he has a fascination with firecrackers and made several, using PVC pipe and gunpowder, according to a state fire marshal report.

State Attorney John Tanner said Hill may have been careless, not malicious, but he still must be charged.

"This wasn't some type of rightwing, terrorist or militia group and there is nothing to indicate that there was any intent to start a fire," Tanner said.

At his small house off Florida A1A, Hill said yesterday he's worried about what happens next. Hill wouldn't discuss what happened but disputed the bomb characterization that authorities are using.

Hill said that when the fire broke out, he and friends went to a convenience store to call for help.

"It was an accident," Hill said outside his house.

Hill said he's a disabled veteran who attends a Baptist church, does volunteer work and has never been in trouble before.

"They told me the other day I could easily be charged for 30 years for an accident," Hill said. "I don't want anybody to think I'm a bad person. I'm just in a lot of trouble. I thought the whole thing would blow over."

Hill's arrest Thursday afternoon -- a year and four days after the fire -- is the most serious criminal case yet in Central Florida stemming from the 1998 firestorm. Lightning sparked many of the summer fires and only a handful of juveniles were charged with setting smaller fires in Lake, Volusia and Brevard counties. …

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