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.

Suspicious fires in Glacier National Park leave a historic structure destroyed

The Ford Creek Patrol Cabin burned

Ford Creek Patrol Cabin burned arson fire
Ford Creek Patrol Cabin. NPS photo.

In northern Montana Thursday morning seven fires were discovered in Glacier National Park in the North Fork area. Park spokesperson Gina Kerzman said they have all been controlled but the Ford Creek Patrol Cabin built in 1928 which is on the National Register of Historic Places was destroyed.

Due to the suspicious nature of the fires, several investigators are on scene including the FBI and the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch, which is assisting remotely.

Anyone with information about the fires is urged to call 406-888-7077.

Resources responding to the fires included local county, state, and federal agencies with hotshot crews, engine crews, and law enforcement personnel.

The Ford Creek Patrol Cabin was built in 1928. The rustic log structure was a significant resource both architecturally and historically as part of a network of shelters approximately one day’s travel apart used by patrolling backcountry rangers.

The nomination of the Ford Creek Patrol Cabin to be on the National Register of Historic Places prepared in 1984 included this description:

“In 1928, Glacier National Park appropriated $2,000 for the construction of four identical snowshoe cabins. The Park hired private contractors to erect the buildings since the staff carpenter force was occupied with construction at Belton headquarters. Documents do not indicate the names of the contractors, although invitations to bid were sent to “several good log men in the vicinity.” The Park provided floor shiplap, roofing materials, cement, okem (chinking), cellar planks, windows and doors and their frames, shakes, and hardware. The contractor cleared the site, cut trees marked by the Park Engineer, built the cabin, and cleared the site.

“The project took three weeks and the cost for all materials and labor totaled $350. This cabin is one of many similar structures built in Glacier National Park during the 1920s and 1930s to facilitate the supervision of lands within the park boundaries. The park’s rugged topography and the often rapidly changing weather conditions made it imperative that these cabins be built at strategic points to protect rangers charged with park surveillance. The cabins were usually located 8 to 12 miles from a permanent ranger station. Thus, a park ranger could spend a number of days on patrol duty without returning to the station for supplies or shelter. The Ford Creek patrol cabin is significant because it illustrates an important aspect in the development and administration of Glacier National Park.

“It is a one-story, rectangular log structure with new corrugated metal on a gable roof, a metal stove pipe, and nine log purlins. The wall logs are saddle notched with sapling chinking and square-cut crowns. There is a concrete alignment foundation under the structure and porch posts. The roof extends to a full porch with a tie beam and vertical pole beneath the ends of seven purlins. There are shakes in the gable ends. The door is solid wood and “bear-proofed.” The windows are iron bars woven with barbed wire over six-light, wood frame casements. The structure is in good condition.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Suspect starts fires with tracer rounds then shoots at firefighters

Optima Wildlife Management Area in Oklahoma

semiautomatic weapon tracer rounds Oklahoma arson
Photo by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

On April 17 an individual that was illegally camping in the Optima Wildlife Management Area in the Oklahoma panhandle and was asked to leave by an Oklahoma Game Warden. As the suspect was departing several fires were started by tracer rounds fired from the suspect’s semiautomatic rifle. As firefighters attempted to extinguish the fires they were shot at multiple times by the individual. The shooter wandered off into the lakebed, setting more fires.

Approximately five hours later and after some intense moments, he was located, talked out, and taken into custody by the Texas County Sheriff’s Office and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

On April 18 Game Warden Mike Baker returned to the scene to attempt to locate the firearm that was reportedly used by the suspect to shoot at the firefighters. The Game Warden talked to two of the firefighters involved in the incident who pointed him to an area where the suspect was last seen starting additional fires.

Game Warden Baker was able to locate tracks that he believed belonged to the suspect and followed them to a point where he located a semiautomatic rifle and two empty magazines that are believed to be the same weapon used by the suspect.

Firefighters posted video of the active scene in which you can hear shots being fired, and firefighters saying, “We’re being shot at!”. Warning, adult language was used.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Missouri man charged with setting 13 fires in California

Freddie GrahamA Missouri man has been charged with 13 felony counts of wildland fire arson and two additional counts of arson committed during a state of emergency. In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom, declared an emergency status in California for the year’s wildfire season.

According to Santa Clara County prosecutors, Freddie Owen Graham of Lone Jack, Missouri flew to San Jose, California, rented a car, and over a period of two days set 13 fires in the Milpitas area. The largest one, the Reservoir Fire, burned 128 acres.

Investigators allege Mr. Graham used a lighter to set napkins from fast food restaurants on fire and threw them into the vegetation. A good citizen saw him up on a hill, took photos and reported his license plate number to CAL FIRE officials who traced the car to the Hertz outlet at the San Jose Airport. Mr. Graham was arrested while turning in the car.

There is a report by Fox4KC that when the investigators arrived at the airport they discovered that the car seen at the fire had been turned in, but the same person, Mr. Graham, came back and rented another.

Mr. Graham is also facing an arson charge in Lone Jack for setting fire to bales of hay on a tractor trailer August 12, 2018.

Good Samaritan makes citizen’s arrest of arson suspect

From KTLA:

A suspected arsonist accused of setting a series of fires in the Sepulveda Pass near the Getty Center [in Los Angeles] was taken into custody on Monday after a Good Samaritan said he saw the man lighting the fires and stepped in.

That Good Samaritan sprang into action and tackled the man.

arsonist caughtThe suspect was arrested after Richard Lazenby took him down to the ground and held him there until officers arrived. Part of that confrontation was caught on camera.

“I yell at him, like, ‘what are you doing?” Lazenby said. “And he says, ‘I’m destroying everything.'”

Lazenby was driving home from Easter Sunday church service with his family when he saw brush fires burning along Sepulveda Boulevard. He then saw the suspect lighting another fire, and blocked the man with his vehicle.

“So I get out of the car, and my goal was to take him down at that point,” Lazenby said.

Wearing his Sunday best, Lazenby took the suspect to the ground and pinned him.

“Wrestled with him in the street, tumbled over into the weeds, got on top of him, pinned him down with his arms,” Lazenby said.

Lazenby’s wife was recording as their children looked on, at first with fear, then with pride.

TBT, 10 years ago: Oyler convicted for Esperanza fire deaths

For throwback Thursday, here is a copy of an article we published on March 7, 2009. FYI: Raymond Lee Oyler remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison in California.


Raymond Lee Oyler, left, is taken out of Riverside Superior Court after being found guilty on Friday/ Press-Enterprise

A four-man, eight-woman jury today found Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, guilty on 42 of 45 counts against him, including five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device to start fires between May 16, 2006 and Oct. 26, 2006 [including the Esperanza Fire in Southern California in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters were killed].

Jurors deadlocked on whether he started three smaller wildfires and Superior Court Judge W. Charles Morgan declared a mistrial on those counts.

Here are the verdicts broken down by individual counts (other than the murder charges, some of these are for arson, and others are for using an incendiary device–in some cases two charges for one fire):

  1. Guilty, murder of Mark Loutzenhiser
  2. Guilty, murder of Daniel Hoover-Najera
  3. Guilty, murder of Jess McClean
  4. Guilty, murder of Jason McKay
  5. Guilty, murder of Pablo Cerda
  6. May 16 fire, guilty
  7. May 16 fire, guilty
  8. May 16 fire, guilty
  9. May 29 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  10. May 29 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  11. May 31 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  12. June 3 fire, guilty
  13. June 4 fire, guilty
  14. June 9 fire, guilty
  15. June 10 fire, guilty
  16. June 11 fire, guilty
  17. June 14 fire, guilty
  18. June 14 fire, guilty
  19. June 14 fire, guilty
  20. June 15 fire, guilty
  21. June 28 fire, guilty
  22. July 2 fire, guilty
  23. July 9 fire, guilty
  24. Sept. 16 fire, guilty
  25. Sept 16 fire, guilty
  26. Sept 17 fire, guilty
  27. Oct. 22 fire, guilty
  28. Oct. 26 fire, Esperanza fire, guilty
  29. May 16 fire, guilty
  30. May 16 fire, guilty
  31. May 16 fire, guilty
  32. June 3 fire, guilty
  33. June 7 fire, guilty
  34. June 9 fire, guilty
  35. June 10 fire, guilty
  36. June 11 fire, guilty
  37. June 14 fire, guilty
  38. June 14 fire, guilty
  39. June 14 fire, guilty
  40. June 28 fire, guilty
  41. July 2 fire, guilty
  42. July 9 fire, guilty
  43. Sept. 16 fire, guilty
  44. Sept. 17 fire, guilty
  45. Oct. 26 fire, Esperanza fire, guilty

On the first five counts Olyer was convicted of first degree murder and of special circumstances for “murder in the commission of arson” and for “multiple murders”.

District Attorney Rod Pacheco said the following about the verdicts:

We are obviously satisfied with the verdicts and that the jury was able to sort through the evidence. A substantial amount of justice has occurred, and I hope that this provides a small measure of consolation to the families of the victims.

Oyler was on trial for setting the October 26, 2006, Esperanza fire which burned 41,000 acres near Cabazon, California and resulted in the deaths of the five-person Engine 57 crew from the San Bernardino National Forest. Killed were Capt. Mark Allen Loutzenhiser, 43, Jason Robert McKay, 27, Jess Edward McLean, 27, Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, and Pablo Cerda, 24.

From the LA Times:

After the trial, the sobbing Oyler family hurried to an elevator and left the building. The families of the victims also left without speaking to the media. A U.S. Forest Service spokesman said the families would not speak until after the penalty phases, which will decide whether Oyler gets the death penalty.

Outside the courtroom, Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins praised the verdicts but noted that five firefighters will never come home.

“Their families have suffered a loss that most of us can’t imagine,” he said. “This will not bring complete closure but it will bring the defendant to justice. It will help the families move to another phase of healing.”

Jeanne Wade Evans, supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest, said arson is a terrible crime that touches so many lives.

“We still feel the loss and we always will,” she said.

At least a dozen current and retired fire personnel filled the left side of the courtroom. They were seated directly behind relatives of the five fallen USFS crew members.

Sentencing, which could include the death penalty for the murder charges, will begin Tuesday when the jury returns for that phase.

****

UPDATE November 12, 2013:

Esperanza Fire Factual Report, and the USDA Office of Inspector General’s Report on the fire.