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Former firefighter admits burning landmark tower

A Wise County man pleaded guilty yesterday to burning down the High Knob observation tower.

According to the Bristol Herald-Courier, Nicholas Owens, age 23, was a volunteer firefighter when he and co-defendant Christopher Hyatt set the fires on Halloween of 2007.

The tower, which stood at an elevation of 4,162 feet, overlooked five states and was a well-known community attraction and tourist destination in the Wise County area. The fires destroyed both the tower and a restroom facility.

Owens pleaded guilty to arson of a U.S. government facility, arson on U.S. government property and making false statements to law enforcement officers. The maximum penalty is 50 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. His sentencing is scheduled for April 8 in Big Stone Gap. Hyatt pleaded guilty in June and faces sentencing on April 9.

Members of the community are in the process of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild the tower with materials that won’t burn.

By Sarah Rodriguez

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