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Man who set van aflame during the Almeda Fire sentenced to four years in prison

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Vance Nguyen THUMB.jpg

MEDFORD, Ore. — A man accused of setting his van on fire amid the same wind event that fueled the Almeda Fire was sentenced on Thursday to four years in prison.

As the Almeda Fire was already spreading shortly before 12:30 p.m. on September 8, 2020, firefighters from the Greensprings Rural Fire District were responding to assist with the major fire when they were diverted to a vehicle on fire near Emigrant Lake.

Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading, though the van itself was destroyed. Vance Phuc Nguyen admitted to responding law enforcement that he'd used gasoline to light his own vehicle on fire. The fire was only about 220 yards away from nearby homes, the Jackson County District Attorney's office said.

A Jackson County grand jury indicted Nguyen on arson charges September 24, in the aftermath of the Almeda Fire.

While Nguyen had been held in the Jackson County Jail since his arrest in September of 2020, he was charged and convicted on assault charges twice in the intervening months due to violent confrontations with both jail staff and another inmate.

Nguyen pleaded guilty to first-degree arson on Wednesday. Appearing again in court on Thursday, Nguyen was sentenced by Judge Lorenzo Mejia to 48 months in state prison with three years of post-prison supervision.

Nguyen is one of two men in Jackson County accused of deliberately setting fires as the Almeda Fire raged. Michael Bakkela is accused of starting a fire behind a Phoenix neighborhood after the larger fire had already reached the city.

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