Trooper Ryan Burke said on Twitter that the man set the grass on fire at State Route (SR) 512 and SR 7. Someone in the area called 911 to report the incident and the suspect was arrested after a short foot chase.
He has since been transported to jail, added Burke. This is the second time state troopers arrested a suspected arsonist this week as destructive wildfires from California creep through parts of Washington.
Suspected arsonist in Pierce County
The first suspect had allegedly set the grass on fire Wednesday afternoon in the median of SR 167 near Puyallup in Pierce County, said Burke in another tweet.
Officials maintain it was intentional, but the suspect, identified as Jeffrey Acord, claimed he had nothing to do with it. He even started a Facebook live video while being arrested. It now has over 155,000 views.
“It looks like a fire literally just started,” he said in the video. He also claimed to have just been walking along the road looking for a camera that fell out of his backpack the day before while riding his motorcycle.
However, an off-duty Fife police officer who saw him near the fire thought that his presence there was suspicious. He was still arrested and booked on a charge of second-degree reckless burning.
Captain Jason Visnaw of the Puyallup Police Department, which assisted in making the arrest, said that the officers had probable reason to believe the suspect had started the fire.
The fire itself had burned about an acre and a half before responders from Central Pierce Fire & Rescue put it out. Visnaw expressed grave concerns that the deliberate fires could affect surrounding communities.
The suspect posted bail the night he was booked. However, he was arrested again that same night after local police caught him on surveillance breaking into a gas station not far from the jail.
Officials open probe into origins of Oregon fires
Oregon, another west coast state battling raging wildfires, has received similar reports of suspected arson cases. (Related: Wildfires in the West could be coordinated arson attacks, says federal law enforcement.)
In particular, arson investigators have started a probe into the suspicious origins of a devastating wildfire, dubbed the Almeda fire, that began in Ashland. It burned about 600 homes and claimed two lives.
The remains of the victims have been found among burned ruins, said Rich Tyler, a spokesman for the state fire marshal. More bodies are expected to be recovered as search teams comb through more ruined houses.
Of the arson probe, Tyler explained that every fire is investigated for the possibility of arson so that officials could either determine it is or rule it out. However, detectives from the state fire marshal’s office and investigators of the Almeda fire treated the blaze as suspicious.
“We have good reason to believe that there was a human element to it,” said Ashland police chief Tighe O’Meara. The team is going to pursue it as a criminal investigation until proven otherwise, he added.
Fire officials strained to put out online misinformation, too
In the midst of these alleged arson cases, numerous claims on social media that antifascist activists had set the fires on the west coast are cropping up.
Federal law enforcement agencies said these claims were unfounded. Firefighters and responders themselves have had to counter these rumors, pleading for people to check the information before sharing it.
The rumors began after Portland police took to Twitter about fire risks, asking groups to demonstrate in a peaceful manner and without the use of fire.
However, several politicians and social media personalities had interpreted the tweet as confirmation that activist groups are starting the fires. Soon, at least half a dozen Facebook pages have shared the rumor.
“We are inundated with questions about things that are FAKE stories,” the Jackson county’s sheriff’s office posted on Facebook on Thursday. “Rumors make the job of protecting the community more difficult.”
The sheriff’s office in Douglas County, Oregon, also issued a similar statement after being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on arson rumors.
“We’re not seeing any indications of a mass politically influenced arson campaign,” a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Forestry told the New York Times.
Read the latest updates about the ongoing wildfire crisis in the U.S. at ClimateScienceNews.com.