HUDSON — Cpl. Erica Poole, a school resource officer at Thomas E. Weightman Middle School, was off duty about 7:45 p.m. Wednesday when she saw a fire while driving on U.S. 19. The flames were shooting from the woods behind the Best of Philly cheesesteak shop.
Poole, 44, pulled over, called 911 and, a report states, saw a man leaving the burning forest.
She identified herself as a sheriff's deputy and told him to stop.
"He took off running," said Pasco fire investigator and deputy Joseph Valente.
Poole, a former New York Police Department officer who served during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, caught up to him.
"She tackled him to the ground," Valente said.
She held Colton David Smith, 18, until deputies arrived.
Smith is accused of starting five fires that burned more than 25 acres. One was behind the sub shop at 13824 U.S. 19 in Hudson. The four others were between Hudson Avenue and Fivay Road, near Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. Valente said no one was injured and no structures were ever in danger.
He said crews battled the fires until about 4 a.m. Thursday. He said blazes were difficult to reach in the woods and conditions were windy and "extremely dry."
Smith told authorities he started the fires by flicking his cigarette on the ground, Valente said. But Valente said the fires burned too fast to have been set by smoldering cigarettes. Smith did not say why he allegedly lit the fires, Valente said.
Smith, of Spring Hill, was arrested and charged with five counts of malicious land burning. He was at the Pasco jail Thursday in lieu of $25,000 bail.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.