BEND, Ore. - (Update: More details from OSP)
A Salt Lake City man has been arrested and indicted on three counts of first-degree arson in connection with a string of wildfires that broke out within hours late last month along Highway 97, from south of Bend to the La Pine area, one that grew to more than 1,200 acres, Oregon State Police announced Tuesday.
Troopers also asked the public to let them know if they have any information on the man – or have seen him or his stolen car around any other wildfires across the Northwest.
OSP helped investigate four fires that occurred on August 29 between the area of Lava River Cave and milepost 180 south of La Pine, in Klamath County. Three were stopped at less than two acres and the fourth, called the McKay Fire near La Pine, which grew to about 1,219 acres before being contained, said OSP Captain Bill Fugate.
“Based on the evidence at the scene, we know that they were intentionally set,” Fugate said.
A “collaborative law enforcement effort and information obtained from the public led to the identification of a suspect, Christopher Glen Wilson, 37," Fugate said. “A witness observed a vehicle, a blue Hyundai, speed away from the scene. They got the license plate and description of the driver.”
Wilson was found and stopped by troopers on Sept. 3 as he drove into Oregon from Idaho on Interstate 84 at the wheel of a stolen blue 2016 Hyundai Sonata, with California license plate 7REL904.
Wilson was booked into the Malheur County Jail in Vale and arraigned Friday on an initial charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He was indicted Monday by a Deschutes County grand jury on three counts of first-degree arson and reckless endangerment. An arraignment date has not yet been set, according to online court records.
“It is deadly serious when you’re starting fires east of the mountain, and you're putting lives at risk,” Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said. "So if Wilson is convicted, we’re going to seek a stiff sentence.”
The fourth fire that day occurred in Klamath County, where charges have not yet been filed, Fugate said.
“It is possible Wilson may be responsible for other fires in the Northwest,” Fugate said in a news release. He told NewsChannel 21 Wilson may have traveled to western Oregon, and witnesses are sought to help establish a timeline of when and where he traveled.
OSP is seeking the public’s help, and asks that anyone with information on Wilson or who saw the car he was driving, perhaps with a distinct “yellow star” U.S. Army sticker in the back window, in any areas known to have wildfires to call OSP at 503-375-3555.
“If you see something say something,” said Hummel. “The public was very important in this investigation. They had tips and leads -- OSP chased them down, and working together we were able to solve it.”
Fugate said gas station surveillance video the day of the fires did not show the sticker in the back window, but it was there when he was stopped and arrested last week.
OSP Arson Unit detectives were assisted in the case by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Forest Service and other law enforcement agencies.
No details were released on Wilson’s background, how the fires were started – or why – but Fugate said more information will be released when it becomes available.
Utah court records show three arrests of Wilson from earlier this year: On Jan. 5 and Feb. 9 for drug possession and criminal trespass, and a third arrest Feb. 14 on assault and criminal mischief charges.