Johnny Mullins’ Facebook page contains a mix of “Crooked Hillary” memes and “weather outlook” video updates. For all of his talents, Mullins, alas, has attracted only 82 followers on the social network, and the wannabe Internet weatherman clearly felt like he deserved a wider audience. So Mullins, who lives in Jenkins, Kentucky, took matters into his own hands earlier this month.
According to Jenkins Police Chief James Stephens, the 21-year-old Mullins now faces a charge of second-degree arson for setting a fire in Letcher County. The chief told the Associated Press on Friday that Mullins said he started the fire he was charged with “because he enjoyed the attention he got from the Facebook stuff.”
During the last video Mullins posted on Facebook, on November 6, the suspected arsonist says, “Some areas are dealing with forest fires here in Eastern Kentucky also, but not here in the area where I am. Of course we hope not, but as you go through the day today you just want to be extremely careful if you’re out there.” Mullins offers, helpfully, that people should avoid smoke if possible.
The “of course we hope not” is a common trope in meteorology that forecasters sometimes trot out when their area is threatened by bad weather. Although credible meteorologists guard against “wishcasting,” the reality is that bad weather is good for forecasters, because it magnifies attention on their work. Hurricanes, winter storms, and adverse events dramatically increase TV ratings and website clicks.
Opportunistic arsonists have only increased the burden of widespread wildfires across the southeastern United States, which have been most concentrated this month in the southern Appalachia area. Extremely dry conditions have led to the deployment of more than 5,000 firefighters to the region. Tens of thousands of acres have burned.