Firefighters Testify in Arson Trial


The first firefighters to arrive at the scene of a blaze at a Knox business testified yesterday in the arson trial of its owner. James Campbell is accused of setting fire to his salvage yard and tire shop on U.S. 35 at Toto Road last March 20st. Barry Sanders from the Bass Lake Fire Department was the first to arrive. He showed up in his personal vehicle with his sons about five minutes after the notification went out. Sanders was recovering from shoulder surgery but still came out to assist. He testified his concern was for Campbell’s house, which is located just south of the salvage yard. Sanders said he knocked loudly on the doors and windows for several minutes until the heat drove him away, and nobody answered. Earlier witnesses testified Campbell was at the shop until around 5 p.m. Firefighters were notified at 5:17 p.m., according to dispatch records.

Firefighter Bill Shaw also testified to the intensity of the heat. He said the home’s stone chimney was cracking and popping, and there was steam rising from the shingles. Shaw and James Button Jr. were battling the blaze on the south end of the business. Button hurt his back trying to move a door out of the way so Sanders could spray water inside the building. He was taken by ambulance to IU Health Starke Hospital, where he was treated and released. Firefighters from eight departments spent several hours fighting the fire. Bass Lake Fire Chief Les Jensen also testified. He says firefighters were called back to the building twice after the initial blaze was extinguished because areas has flared up again.

So far eight witnesses have testified for the state. The trial resumes today at 9 a.m. If convicted of arson as a Class A felony Campbell faces between 20 and 50 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.