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Officials suspect arson in numerous Western wildfires

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  • ulrich stuart
    copied from http://www.missoulian.com/display/inn_news/news11.txt Officials suspect arson in numerous Western wildfires By LINDA ASHTON of the Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 24, 2002

      copied from http://www.missoulian.com/display/inn_news/news11.txt

      Officials suspect arson in numerous Western wildfires

      By LINDA ASHTON of the Associated Press

      NACHES, Wash. - Arson is suspected in about 20 wildfires, most of them started in the last two weeks, east of Mount Rainier, federal authorities said Friday.

      "It's just a matter of time - if it continues, we'll have a major disaster," said Sonny O'Neal, supervisor for the Okanagon and Wenatchee national forests.

      The largest of the wildfires, the 2,286-acre Oak Creek II fire, burned to within a mile of Tieton Middle School, 15 miles west of Yakima, before it was contained Aug. 16. There were no injuries or structures damaged in any of the blazes.

      All of the fires have been in Yakima and Kittitas counties, and most of them have been in drainages along Washington 410, the east-west route across Chinook Pass, and U.S. 12, the east-west route across White Pass.

      The suspicious fires probably date back about a month, but most have occurred in the last two weeks, said Paul Hart, a spokesman for the two national forests in central Washington.

      As many as 12 fires appear to have been set in a single day, often in areas where people would not typically go, said Gary Berndt, a state Department of Natural Resources assistant regional manager for resource protection in Ellensburg.

      Most have been set in the late evening or early morning, possibly with a cigarette lighter or other flaming material, Berndt and O'Neal said.

      Two fires were started Friday. Both were snuffed quickly, burning less than an acre, as has been the case with most of the other fires.

      Arson is suspected in some of the largest fires in the West this year. A Forest Service employee was charged with arson in the biggest wildfire in Colorado history. She has been fired.

      In New Mexico, a federal Bureau of Indian Affairs forestry technician has been indicted in six fires started on or near the Mescalero Apache Reservation.

      In Arizona, a contract firefighter is accused of starting a fire in dry grass on the Fort Apache Reservation that would merge with another blaze to become the largest wildfire in the state's history.

      All three people have pleaded innocent to the charges.

      Investigators believe one or possibly two people may be responsible for the central Washington fires, and the possibility that it could be a firefighter has not been ruled out, O'Neal said.

      "We always think about that," he said.

      An arson prevention task force has been formed to investigate the wildfires in Washington. Members include representatives of the DNR, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

      A reward of up to $10,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction in the fires, and a telephone has been set up.

       



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