Movie Villains Wiki

Ronald Bartel is an imprisoned arsonist who is a minor antagonist in the 1991 film Backdraft, he was portrayed by veteran actor Donald Sutherland. He is a pyromaniac and is an expert with the craft of using fire as a work of destruction.

His criminal activities were all off-screen. He appears calm when he gets to speak to people, but when fire is mentioned, he laughs about it.


Ronald Bartel is for the most part a calm and quiet person when he speaks to someone who is coming to see him. The only time he goes nuts is when the subject of fire is brought up. Ronald is also manipulative and has a personality that's much similar to Hannibal Lecter.

His crimes

In 1971, Ronald set a florist shop on fire and Brian McCaffrey, who he knows personally saw his firefighter father, Dennis get burned in a gas explosion. Ronald mentions that Dennis McCaffrey knew him personally.

Sometime after the events of 1971, Ronald was hired to burn down a warehouse on State Street and got caught in one of his own fires. When that happened, Donald Rimgale (who was a firefighter before he became an arson investigator) pulled him out and a giant tub of phosphorus went up and left a bright light causing a big shadow to be seen on the wall, which is how Donald earned the nickname "Shadow".

Parole denied

Ronald was called for a parole hearing when Brian McCaffrey and Donald Rimgale came to visit him and question if he knew anything about the backdrafts that killed Martin Swayzak's henchmen: Alan Seagrave and Donald Cosgrove before Jeffrey Holcomb was killed. Ronald was taken to the parole hearing to answer questions about being ready for parole after serving six years in prison. His parole was denied after Donald asked what Ronald would like to do to the world and do to people and he replied "Burn it all!" This indicated that he wasn't ready and that he's an anarchist.

The Real Arsonist

Brian goes to visit Ronald and ask him who was responsible for killing Swayzak's henchmen, Ronald taunts Brian and asks him if he wanted to be a firefighter like Dennis was and Brian says that he wanted to be him more than anything. Ronald then says that whoever has experienced fire knows all too well about it and at the same time hates it but uses it as a weapon and hangs out around trychtichlorate for a long period of time. Brian at first suspects that Stephen might be the one, but later finds out that John Adcox is the one using the trychtichlorate and setting the fires after he sees a burn mark on John's back after he tackled him in Swayzak's home before it caught fire.