Man charged with setting fire in Southern Oregon that burned 15 properties

Michael Bakkela
Michael Bakkela. Photo: Jackson County Sheriff office.

A grand jury has indicted a 41-year old man for setting a fire in Phoenix, Oregon on September 8, the day the Almeda Drive Fire started near Ashland. Michael Jarrod Bakkela was arraigned on 2 counts of Arson in the First Degree, 15 counts of Criminal Mischief in the First Degree, 14 counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, and one count for Unlawful Possession of Methamphetamine.

Mr. Bakkela, who is being held on bail of $5 million, is accused of starting a fire that damaged 15 properties between Phoenix and Medford that contributed to the Almeda Drive Fire.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office announced September 15 that at least 2,357 structures were destroyed in the Almeda Drive Fire, which started north of Ashland and rapidly spread northwest through Talent, then Phoenix, and was finally stopped south of Medford.

Almeda Drive Fire map
Map of the Almeda Drive Fire in Southern Oregon, September 10, 2020. Google/Wildfire Today/NIFC

The wording of the indictment implies that the fire allegedly started by Mr. Bakkela merged with the Almeda Drive Fire.

From Oregon Live:

According to the county Sheriff’s Office, residents in the 1100 block of Quail Lane called 911 at 5:09 p.m. Sept. 8 to report that a man, later identified as Bakkela, was lighting a fire near the railroad tracks behind their home. A deputy took Bakkela into custody a short time later.

Detectives suspect Bakkela drove into a gated area, parked a vehicle, started a fire and then fled north before he was stopped, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

22 thoughts on “Man charged with setting fire in Southern Oregon that burned 15 properties”

  1. That’s exactly what he looked like when my neighbor caught him lightning a fire behind our homes. I couldn’t put it out.
    Resources left the Greenway fire and came behind Barnum subdivision. They couldn’t put it out. That’s when the Greenway blew up. Bear lake estates, Coleman creek estates, royal oak estates, including their propane tank. That was the big explosion. That blew everything my way. 7 11, harley Davidson and my neighborhood

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  2. This guys a terrorist. Thats terrorist attack. Pray for lives of the affected, and still being afftected by him.

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  3. Ok so this guy started the alemeda fire. Who started all the others??????
    Shady Cove, Eagle Point, ECT.?

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  4. He needs to held accountable for EVERY CRIME he committed; regardless whether he can ever make restitutions! The government does it ALL THE TIME in rural forest fires! In an habitated plural of communities ~ it should be even more so! So many homes lost, priceless personal property, Every man that died trying to save their home! Every animal that perished should be accounted for as animal cruelty & EVERY MEMORIAL FLAG & veterans medals that perished! I thought burning a flag was a federal offense! I could go on; but you see what I mean. TO THE FULLEST MEASURE ALLOWED BY LAW!

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  5. Once again, homeless men are responsible for devastating fires. Just a few years ago businesses burned in downtown Ashland. A campfire jumped the freeway and burned eight homes. Now, my Phoenix house sits in the middle of hell. Dangerous arsonists, hundreds more homeless. Message: ENABLING irresponsible behavior compounds aggression. What have we done? Welcome to Oregon! Free bus tickets, free food, free phones, free tents (yes, it’s true), free camping, free trash pick up. What have we created? A mess. Future disaster. A lack of SENSIBLE restrictions. In Eugene we find tents, trash and needles in our yards, parks and playgrounds. Evidence of careless flames, drugs and smoking cigarettes. Bend, surrounded by dry forests, has an upsurge of (upscale) campers and trailers on public lands. All have one thing in common — FIRE. Oregon, start thinking about public safety. Restrictions, please.

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  6. It’s too late for this guy. The jury will decide.

    But what is being done to prevent the creation of such a mind in the first place. Obviously, not enough.

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  7. So sad all the damage done to our beautiful & pristine Oregon! The blue skies were filled with smoke for over a week! The people displaced from all the fires will have to go through so much to recover‼️?

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  8. They better be making him pay for it like they did to the teenager that accidentally started the eagle creek fire!

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  9. It would be interesting to see a scholarly study of the details of all human-caused fires, including motivations. An out of work ‘dozer operator started one to get work. The devil is in the details. As long as we continue to just lock them up without understanding the phenomenon, we’re never going to get anywhere with prevention. Mere revenge doesn’t bring people back, compensate for losses, recover costs, etc.

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  10. Didn’t someone burn to death in this fire? I didn’t read any charges for that. ??
    I’m grateful for his capture and consequences he’ll have to face, but he’ll never be able to make it right for all of those he personally put out if their homes & businesses! Such a shame! It would be interesting to ask him “why” he did it?? So sad!

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      1. He didn’t start the Almeida fire, he started a fire in Phoenix and it merged with the already Almeida fire

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    1. I think that somewhere I read that he was accused of starting the Phoenix fire closer to medford that was right behind my house behind pickers paradise on hoyt lane that burned 2 of my families homes down and a few others it is on the border of Phoenix and Medford they say there was two points of origin that one and one closer to Ashland and talent and the people that supposedly died supposedly died from the fire that was started Ashland talent and not the one that he started. it didn’t burn that far but it did merge with the other one to make 1 big fire. the one that he started that burnt our house and stuff only burnt around pickers Paradise area in Medford

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      1. It doesn’t matter exactly WHERE he started a fire. Its bad enough that he started ANY fire AT ALL. What is wrong with people? He needs to be thrown into jail forever. Look at all the lives he destroyed due to his “sickness” stupidity. No one will ever be able to financially recoup off this idiot. And there’s several more like him out there, doing the same thing. Some because they’re demented, some due to making a political statement. Then you’ve got the electric companies in California, not keeping up with their equipment; mismanaged forests with too much underbrush & deadwood, & then mother nature herself, with lightning strikes. Recipe for disaster every year in the Pacific Northwest/west coast.

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        1. NO ONE has ever suggested that any of these fires were politically motivated. It’s false and unproductive to suggest otherwise.

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  11. I don’t believe there is a broader sinister plot regarding intentional fire starting. But I fully support immediate pursuit and apprehension of perpetrators, as achieved in this situation. I like the $5 million bail assessment, a clear message to all that there will be zero tolerance of such selfish behavior.

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    1. This guy is obviously a sick addict with a history of aberrant behaviour – we have lots of these individuals in Southern Oregon. Conditions in Southern Or are pitiful right now. Tourism is dead for the time being. Oregon Shakespeare Festival ?
      Lots of folks have little if any work, also pretty much the norm here.. Cost of living index is very high, housing is in a true crisis state, there is none for poor people etc. There has been for years a failure to thrive mentality in So Or. The State has pretty much gone off the tracks
      IMO. In Oregon 30 years. Lived in So Oregon 14 years.

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  12. We gotta do a better job of heading such folks off at the pass. Not with socialism, but with a social conscience. The 1 percent can afford the cost. They can melt down their gold toilet seats if necessary.

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  13. And in CA, can All the fires be contributed to natural causes (such as lightning & ect) or is there something more cenister to envelope Central CA in eye burning & throat drying smoke for 2+ weeks ??????

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    1. Something very sinister and it’s called criminal negligence by P.G.&E. Their deferred maintenance caused the fire in Paradise that killed 85 people. Is that sinister enough for you are shall I list the other fires caused by P.G.&E.?

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