Two Texas Firefighters Face Arson Charges

BENAVIDES, Texas (AP) - The volunteer fire department has been busy fighting blazes in this South Texas town - too many, some say.

The last in a string of eight fires that struck since late last year burned down a house. Volunteer firefighters responded to the May 5 blaze in two minutes.

By mid-May, two Benavides volunteer firefighters were charged with arson in connection with three of the fires.

``We've got a videotape from a convenience store of them paying for diesel fuel that they bought within two hours of the fire,'' Joe Mike Pena, an assistant Duval County district attorney, told the San Antonio Express-News in Monday's online edition. ``Another witness saw them putting it into a small container, and one of them is wearing his bib uniform.''

Forensic analysis of the charred debris at the house that burned May 5, owned by Juan Villareal, showed results consistent with a fire ignited by diesel fuel, said Pena.

``In addition, that same truck seen at the convenience store was later spotted driving away from the (Villarreal) house, and the person who saw it also saw a glow coming from inside the house,'' he said.

Firefighters, Adam Nerio, 28, and Robert Galvan Garcia, 24, are free after posting $200,000 bail each. No trial date has been set. Lawyers for the indicted firefighters declined to comment.

The Benavides Volunteer Fire Department's sole pumper, a 1986 Ford, is now out of service with a broken pump motor

``Oh God, we need to replace it,'' Fire Chief Ricardo Carrillo said. ``Every meeting I'd go to, I'd tell the City Council, this truck cannot handle it.''

The 20-year-old chief says he still believes in his firefighters' innocence.

``To this day, I think it was kids who set the fires,'' he said. ``My guys say they had nothing to do with it. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.''

One of the blazes struck a house owned by an elderly man who barely made it to safety. The remainder were in unoccupied dwellings found in Benavides in abundance, some half hidden in the mesquite and huisache.

The town of 1,686 residents typically has only two or three fires a year. All fire calls are now referred to San Diego, 17 miles to the north, said Carrillo.

He said the arrests ended some popularity for the Benavides department.

``People wanted to be in our department. We had a real strong group,'' `` Carrillo said. ``We were always in public in our uniforms, cleaning hydrants, giving coloring books to kids.''