The La Grande Police Department arrested a juvenile in connection to a series of arson fires in the downtown area over the last several weeks.
The 15-year-old male was arrested on charges of second-degree arson, first-degree criminal mischief and eight counts of reckless burning.
Eight fires were set on two separate nights, according to a press release from the LGPD. Three were set June 28 and five more were set July 9.
The escalation of the situation was extremely concerning to LGPD.
“After the second fires downtown the priority level changed,” LGPD Lt. Gary Bell told The Observer. “The investigation got the highest priority investigation in our (detective) section because we were concerned someone was going to get hurt.”
One of the locations of the fire, according to Bell, was between the gas pumps at Safeway.
“The fire had completely melted down the garbage can between the gas pumps,” he said. “Fortunately it didn’t cause
Bell said the close proximity to the gas pumps could have made that situation catastrophic.
Additionally, fires were set behind Goss Motors, the Hideout Saloon, Century 21 and Dawn’s Delights, among others.
The fire at Goss Motors scorched the side of the building, he said.
“That could’ve very easily caught the entire building on fire,” Bell said. “There were flammable materials within the room and the fire had caused the windows to break.”
Bell said there are apartment buildings in the downtown area and the police were very concerned that, given the escalation, the perpetrator would move from setting dumpsters on fire to buildings.
The fires also seemed to be set consecutively, forcing the fire department to respond to multiple at once.
“On June 28, when the initial 911 calls came in for the first fire, it was at 3:38 a.m. The fire was reported at the Hideout Saloon. Immediately upon the response, the (fire department) identified the second and third fire. The truth is, we don’t know which fire was lit first.”
Bell said the fires set on July 9 were the same.
“When the 911 call came in for the Safeway fire, (the fire department) responded to that one. They were in the process of extinguishing it and the officers were leaving the scene when they spotted another fire behind Century 21. That same period of time, two more fires were identified and then a third behind Dawn’s Delights. All of them were in the alleyway,” Bell said.
LGFD Fire Chief Les Thomas said he responded to the second round of fires on July 9 and saw the firefighters pulling their hose lines from one fire to another.
“They were literally dragging them … from dumpster to dumpster,” Thomas said. “It was very labor intensive. They did a good size-up of which fires were priority.”
Bell said the police relied heavily on the community and the businesses’ surveillance footage to catch the juvenile responsible. The community did a tremendous job, he said.
“The surveillance played a significant role in this,” he said.
While the investigation is ongoing, he does not believe there is additional risk.
“We believe that we have the one person responsible for this,” he said.
Thomas also wanted to commend the police department on their abilities for this investigation and how quickly it
“I applaud them for their efforts and we are very happy and thankful for the citizens who got involved,” Thomas said.
The Union County Sheriff’s Office also helped in this investigation.