PHOENIX, Ore. — The man accused of starting a fire behind a Phoenix neighborhood on the night the Almeda Fire was raging made his first appearance in court on Monday.
41-year-old Michael Jarrod Bakkela was arraigned in Jackson County Circuit Court. Appearing via a video monitor from the county jail, Bakkela entered an initial plea of "not guilty."
Bakkela's bail has been set at $5 million. An out-of-county public defender will be appointed for him.
Deputies and troopers from Oregon State Police arrived behind Quail Lane in Phoenix last Tuesday night to find Bakkela standing near "a very large fire" that was threatening several homes, the Sheriff's Office said in a statement. Bakkela reportedly denied starting the fire.
The Sheriff's Office has maintained that this case is considered separate from the investigation into the Almeda Fire's origin, but that both have been investigated by the Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit (MADIU).
Bakkela was initially taken to the Jackson County Jail on a probation violation for an original charge of methamphetamine possession. He now faces two counts of Arson I, 15 counts of Criminal Mischief I, and 14 counts of Reckless Endangering.
Bakkela has an extensive criminal history in Jackson County alone — including a mix of misdemeanor drug charges and more serious felonies — though no previous charges for arson.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.