Firefighter Arrested After Series Of Arson Blazes
OKANOGAN, Wash. (AP) _ A former firefighter accused of setting a $6.5 million string of fires reported the first blaze to police and helped authorities erect barricades at the second fire, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Adrian Julius Howe, 23, will be charged Friday with six counts of arson, said Okanogan County Prosecutor Jack Burchard. He was ordered held on $250,000 bail. Each count carries up to life in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Howe, arrested Wednesday, reported the first blaze Dec. 6 at an elementary school, helped set up barricades at a Dec. 14 fire, and was seen by police at three other blazes, Burchard told Superior Court Judge James R. Thomas.
The fires began in December, when Omak North Elementary School was hit twice within eight days. Two churches in Omak and a church parsonage there also were burned in a week’s time earlier this month.
Howe lived in a trailer court across the street from the school in December, then moved to an apartment across from one of the churches before the February fires, Burchard said.
Howe, who Sheriff Jim Weed said had experience fighting wildfires, was arrested by investigators of a special 12-member arson task force and confessed to all six fires, Burchard told Thomas.
Burchard and Weed said there was no apparent motive for the fires. Investigators have no reason to believe Howe, a high school dropout, had any animosity toward the elementary school he attended, Burchard said.
The investigation depleted the small rural county’s coffers, prompting the county to declare an emergency and request state help. The Washington House voted Wednesday to appropriate $150,000 to help cover the investigation costs.
A lifelong resident of Omak, a town of 4,000, Howe was employed at a lumber mill on the Colville Indian Reservation. Friends who knew him from several bars he frequented described Howe as a loner who used to get into fights.
″I don’t think that he had anything to do with it,″ said Brian Marbach, a friend of Howe’s for 19 years.
Howe, who spent time in the Army, recently had been trying to reconcile with a girlfrend by whom he had a young daughter, Marbach said.