MEDFORD, Ore. – Police arrested a homeless woman in connection to two arsons this week, and said she is a suspect in 21 other suspicious fires in Medford over the past month.
57-year-old Debra Irene Johns was arrested Thursday morning near Hawthorne Park, shortly after officers arrived on the scene of a tree on fire. Officers recognized Johns from previous encounters, and she tried to run while throwing tissue paper from her pockets. She was arrested on an unrelated warrant, and was later charged with the fire at Hawthorne Park and a fire outside Beavertooth Oak on South Holly Street on Wednesday.
Although the charges are only for the two fires, Medford Police Chief Tim George said Johns is likely responsible for setting 23 arsons in Medford since June 25th.
“This suspect is the person who was committing arson crimes that are very consistent with the string of arson crimes,” George said. “Not all of them, but it is a consistent theme with the majority of these fires.”
A suspicious early-morning fire on June 25th destroyed a warehouse that housed Miscellany Antiques on Fir Street. Since then, other fires have been set in alleys, in a car, and near homes, mostly around west Medford.
Johns is charged with two counts of second-degree arson, and a count of reckless burning. George said police will continue to work with Medford Fire to see if Johns is linked to the other arsons, and said he is not ruling out the possibility of a second suspect.
Some people who live and work near some of the fires said they are happy a suspect has been caught, but they are still being cautious. Volunteers at the Southern Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Center had a newspaper recycling bin removed last week to keep it from being a target. Executive Director Glory Cooper said Friday they will wait for a few days to see if there are any additional fires or arrests, and said the bin would likely be brought back next week.