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Oklahoma Forestry Services Firefighter Accused Of Setting Dozens Of Fires

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Picture of Mike Malenski taken at the Cherokee County jail. Picture of Mike Malenski taken at the Cherokee County jail.

Craig Day, News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma -- Charges are expected soon for a firefighter suspected of setting dozens of fires. Wildland firefighter Mike Malenski, 38, was arrested for arson for a series of fires stretching over the past year and a half.

Investigators believe Malenski is responsible for as many as 60 different fires in Cherokee County.

5/16/2011 Related Story: Firefighter Charged With Arson In Cherokee County

Prosecutors say he may have been hooked on the adrenaline of putting them out.

For some time, special agents with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry have suspected Malenski of intentionally setting fires in the Cherokee Wildlife Management area.

Those fires burned about 9,200 acres in 2010, and another 2,200 this year.

"It's extremely shocking and dangerous," Jack Thorp, Cherokee County Assistant District Attorney, said.

Of the 59 fires in the management area in 2010, all of them happened while Malenski was on duty as a forest ranger. Not a single one happened while he was off duty.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Malenski was actively involved in fighting all of them.

"He would set the fires, call them in and then he would go fight the fires," Thorp said.

Investigators put a GPS tracking device on his truck and determined Malenski was responsible for setting nine fires this year between February 17, 2011 and April 21, 2011, during his normal work hours.

"It's very difficult when you identify one of your own as a potential arsonist, but that really does not stop the responsibility to investigate and prosecute arsonists," George Geissler, the Director Oklahoma Forestry Services, said.

No one was injured in the fires, but prosecutors say the fires endangered fellow firefighters.

"The risks that these individuals, our firemen had to take, to put out fires that he's running around setting, that is horrendous," Thorp said.

Malenski had worked seven years for Oklahoma Forestry Services. According to the affidavit, he admitted to setting about 50 fires in the past year and a half.

"It's breathtaking, that someone would set this many fires," Thorp said.

Malenski was booked into the Cherokee County Detention Center. Bond was set at $25,000.

He is on administrative leave with the state, pending termination proceedings. In addition to arson charges, he will also likely face charges of endangering the life of emergency personnel.

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