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Investigators baffled by recent rash of flag burnings

Sat., Oct. 8, 2011, midnight

There’s a new crime spree in Spokane Valley: someone is setting American flags on fire.

Three flags hanging on homes located within a few blocks of one another were found singed Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, said Spokane Valley Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshal Bill Clifford.

The spree comes after someone spotted a man lighting a flag on fire on Mission Avenue near Valley Hospital and Medical Center a couple of weeks ago, Clifford said.

The recent cases of burned flags were reported in the 900 block of North Van Marter Road, the 500 block of North University Road and the 10800 block of East Sinto Avenue. The rash of flag burnings has investigators puzzled, Clifford said.

“It’s kind of strange that people are out there doing this,” he said. “They have the potential of catching the home on fire.”

Fire investigators caught a lucky break on Wednesday and were able to make an arrest for several arson fires shortly after the fires were put out. A passer-by reported seeing two Dumpsters on fire behind the strip mall on the northwest corner of Evergreen Road and Sprague Avenue at 12:41 a.m. Wednesday.

“While they were putting that out, they looked to the east and saw the fire behind the auto parts store,” Clifford said. A dumpster had been set on fire at that location as well.

Shortly before 2 a.m., a Spokane Valley police officer called fire investigators to report spotting a suspicious person on a bicycle nearby. Investigators went to talk to him and saw soot on his hands, Clifford said. “He spilled his beans and gave it up to the investigator,” Clifford said. “The good thing is, we caught him and he’ll be held responsible.”

The 15-year-old boy also reportedly confessed to stealing the bicycle he was using in Liberty Lake. It was also discovered later in the morning that some bushes had been set on fire in front of the Numerica Credit Union, 14610 E. Sprague, Ave., only a few blocks from the other fires.

The teen will be charged with four counts of second-degree arson and one count of third-degree theft, Clifford said.

Crews responded to 232 calls from Sept. 29 to Wednesday, including 172 EMS calls. Someone lit a pile of trash and furniture on fire in a corner of an old car lot in the 7100 block of East Sprague Avenue on Monday. An abandoned campfire was reported in the area of 2200 North Pines Road on Sept. 30.

The driver of a white van swerved off the road and hit a telephone pole and a fire hydrant at 3:19 a.m. on Oct. 1. When crews responded the driver had left the scene, Clifford said. Some residents nearby lost power until Avista made repairs.

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