PHOENIX, Ore. — A man is in custody, charged with two counts of arson and numerous other charges after allegedly starting a fire in Phoenix the night the Almeda Fire was raging.
The Jackson County Sheriff's Office said that deputies responded to the 1100-block of Quail Lane just after 5 p.m. on Tuesday night, to an area off Barnum drive between Highway 99 and the railroad tracks. The 911 caller reported seeing a man igniting a fire behind their home on Quail Lane.
"Due to the impending fire, the witnesses had to flee their home and could not be interviewed immediately," the Sheriff's Office said.
When deputies and troopers form Oregon State Police arrived, they found 41-year-old transient Michael Jarrod Bakkela standing near "a very large fire" that was threatening several homes. Bakkela reportedly denied starting the fire.
The Sheriff's Office says 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.
Sheriff Nathan Sickler did not comment on how this fire may have contributed to the damage caused by the Almeda Fire, if at all.
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.