Former Utah Highway Patrol trooper charged with arson in wildfire

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Attorney General’s Office has charged a former Utah Highway Patrol trooper with arson, accusing him of setting a wildfire.

Rex Olsen was charged in Vernal’s 8th District Court on Tuesday with arson, a second-degree felony; and wildland fire prevention violation, a class B misdemeanor. Law enforcement sources confirmed to FOX 13 late Tuesday that Olsen was a UHP trooper at the time of the fire.

A wildfire burning near Maeser prompted evacuations June 9, 2017. Images courtesy Lehvi Watson.

According to an affidavit filed with the charges, Olsen admitted to starting the Maeser fire on June 9. An investigator with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands wrote in a probable cause statement the fire was sparked by “a delayed ignition device constructed to ignite a fire using the cigarette as a timed fuse.”

“I located and reviewed video evidence at a local gas station that showed
Rex Olsen (“Olsen”) purchasing the type of cigarette used at the scene to start the fire. I also obtained GPS based location data from Olsen’s patrol car that showed he was in the area where the fire began at the time the ignition device was placed and the fire was started,” investigator Jason Curry wrote.

“I conducted an in-person interview with Olsen. During this interview, Olsen stated and acknowledged that he alone was the person responsible for intentionally igniting the Maeser fire on June 9th, and that he did so because he wanted to feel the excitement of it.”

The wildfire burned approximately 1,000 acres and prompted evacuations in the tiny eastern Utah town in June.

In a statement, the Utah Department of Public Safety said it launched its own investigation and fired Olsen on July 1.

“Throughout the investigation, the Department of Public Safety has worked closely with investigators and will continue to do so. ​We regret when incidents happen involving our personnel which reflect negatively on our department,” agency spokeswoman Marissa Cote said in the statement.

Read the charging documents here:

Updates on FOX 13 and as details become available…

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