August 14, 2014 in City, Region

Arson arrests made in connection with Carlton Complex fire

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Two men were arrested in Okanogan County and charged with arson for setting a backburn that failed and helped spread the devastating fire that scorched much of the Methow Valley last month.

The arrests bring the total number of people in custody to three.

Keith Strickland, 60, of Twisp, was charged with arson on Monday for lighting a fire that he set in hopes of slowing a wildfire’s growth by burning off brush in its path. Instead he is accused of losing control of it.

Larry Smith, 63, of Twisp, is accused of helping Strickland light the fire. He has been charged with arson after neighbors showed police photographs of both men defying the orders of firefighters in the area, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said.

Firefighters told Strickland and Smith specifically not to start any fires because only officials were authorized to light back burns to protect structures, Rogers said.

Crews then watched Strickland light the fire, which damaged neighboring property on Benson Creek Road and property owned by the U.S. Forest Service, according to police reports.

Smith had been arrested and charged with his first count of arson last month on suspicion of starting a fire near Twisp.

Police arrested Radley Hastings, 62, of Chelan, last month for allegedly lighting a fire that Rogers said “went the wrong way” and nearly trapped a group of firefighters in a canyon. The fire crews called law enforcement after escaping the flames.

Police are investigating one more person on arson-related charges, Rogers said.

“Here these guys are, lighting fire where there’s no fire,” Rogers said. “If you’re lighting a fire that endangers firefighters in the area, that’s arson.”

The Carlton Complex, close to full containment as of Wednesday, has burned more than 400 square miles and about 500 structures, including 325 homes.


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