Fire Chief In Vera Vows To Catch Arsonist

Friday, March 28th 2014, 5:51 pm
By: Craig Day

New at five, an arsonist is on the loose in one part of Green Country.

Firefighters think he's responsible for hundreds of fires, including three on Thursday set within just minutes of each other, in Vera, which is about halfway between Tulsa and Bartlesville.

It's taking a toll on firefighters, equipment, and investigators fear one day, the arsons could have a deadly outcome.

Firefighters at the Owens and Co. Fire Department in Vera say three separate fires were intentionally set within minutes of each other.

Winds of 30 miles per hour made it even harder.

3/28/14 Related Story: Washington County Firefighters Look For Grass Fire Arsonist

"He set the fires each in more than one location," fire chief Todd Owens said. "So it would each fire running on us hard."

Owens says it gets worse.

He suspects the same arsonist is responsible for 150 to 200 fires over the past year and a half.

"Seems like he always sets them on low humidity, high windy days, so he knows what he's doing," he said.

Last fall, the serial arsonist set 17 fires in just one day.

"It was literally just one fire after another," Owens said.

Investigators have found evidence at those fires that shows they definitely weren't accidental.

Owens says it's taking a toll on equipment, and on firefighters who are volunteers.

The department has already gone through 75 percent of this year's annual budget.

"The community is going to have to get alert," Owens said. " Everybody is going to have to be watching."

The arsonist usually sets the fires between 4:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and evidence has shown the fires are started the exact same way.

And they're not only in Vera, fires are being set in neighboring fire districts, which impacts those department's ability to provide mutual aid when it's needed.

Owens worries it's only a matter of time, before the fires have dangerous consequences.

"A fire chief's biggest worry is getting a firefighter hurt," Owens said.

Before that happens, Owens wants the arsonist caught and the fires to stop.

"I'm aggravated that I cannot get this guy caught," Owens said. "We will catch him. One way or another."

Anyone who sees anything suspicious, especially on windy days when the arsonist seems to strike most, should call the Washington County Sheriff's Office at 918-338-4001.