PROVO, Utah -- It’s been nearly a year since an arsonist went to work torching more than a dozen unoccupied buildings and vehicles in and around Provo.
Fifteen fires are linked to one individual, according to officials. A task force including local and federal investigators is now in place, hoping to capture the firebug before the suspect strikes again.
The blazes started in March 2014 with some suspicious car and structure fires. Fire officials say those fires were soon followed by another series of early morning blazes.
“But two weeks later, when we had the three duplexes on fire at the same location it was pretty obvious we had a problem in Provo,” said Provo Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield.
After a second rash of arsons, Schofield said, he and his team realized the problem they were dealing with might require additional assistance.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been assisting in the investigation.
“At that point the ATF came on board fully with their resources. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- they're the fire investigative unit for the federal government -- they have a lot of technical expertise. They're pretty good? They're very good,” Schofield said.
Even though the buildings being torched are abandoned and unoccupied, ATF investigators say, it’s still an issue.
“And there are a lot of firefighters out in the line trying to put these buildings out because someone decided they want to burn a building,” said Robert McCloy with ATF. “Any time you fight a fire there’s an element of danger – talking about toxins in the smoke, possibility of collapsing walls and roofs.”
McCloy added there is the potential threat of one of the fires spreading.
Investigators now have a profile of the arsonist and say they’re working on several promising leads.
While fires seemed to have tapered off, Schofield said, it’s wishful thinking to believe this person simply stopped lighting fires.
The fire marshal believes the next round of blazes could be even more dangerous.
“So the challenge is as this person continues to get out and set these fires, at what point do abandoned buildings become not that interesting anymore?” Schofield questioned.
Schofield believes authorities are dealing with a pathological arsonist.
Like a drug addict, an arsonist needs to set bigger blazes to achieve their high or rush, which is why officials are racing against the clock to identify and arrest the culprit.
Manhunt for a serial arsonist
Local and federal fire investigators say they’re closer than ever to learning the identity of a serial arsonist.
With no eyewitnesses and limited physical evidence, the challenge for detectives is obvious. Yet, thanks to advances in forensics and psychological profiling, they believe they’re on the right trail to arresting the suspect.
One thing authorities know for certain about the Provo firebug is what is used to ignite the flames.
“The fires we’re looking at that are associated with this arsonist have all had ignitable liquid components,” Schofield said.
Those liquids include gas or lighter fluid.
Based on their investigation, detectives believe the arsonist is a male under 30 years old, probably a loner and a almost certainly a pathological fire starter.
“They do it because they have to,” Schofield said. “Whether it’s a turn on, which happens sometimes, but they have to burn something, it’s a release for them.”
Local and federal investigators have tracked down several leads. While they’re not ready to make an arrest, Schofield said, they’re getting closer.
“It’s just like a drug,” he said. “They’re going to be looking for more and more intense responses. And that puts the public at risk, which is why we want to get this person apprehended and prosecuted. This has not fallen off our radar by any stretch of the imagination – we believe we’re pretty close.”
Although investigators are getting closer to closing the cases, they still ask for the public’s help.
If you know anything about the fires, call investigators at 801-852-6210.
There is a $5,000 cash reward for the right tip.