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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fairfield arsonist faces new charges

An ex-firefighter serving a five-year sentence for starting a blaze that destroyed a grass seed warehouse in 2003 faces additional arson charges.

Kenneth Southwell, 53, is accused of setting fire to a home at 208 N. Railroad in Fairfield five times in the two months leading up to the Labor Day fire that destroyed the Heart Seed Co.’s warehouse. He faces five counts of second-degree arson.

Barbara Johnson told a detective that she and her husband began nightly surveillance of their property after a series of fires in the summer of 2003, court records say. On Aug. 20, 2003, she saw flashes of light coming from the rear of their home and found Southwell at the scene, Johnson said.

Johnson’s telephone number was unlisted, and she could not be located for comment.

Johnson told a detective that she was ignored by local fire investigators after she reported to them that she was suspicious of Southwell, court records say. He was the director of emergency medical services for Spokane County Fire District No. 2, which serves Fairfield.

The first of the fires, which occurred July 26, 2003, caused about $2,000 in damage to the house, court records say. The amount of damage in four subsequent fires was not specified in the court documents, but the home suffered damage to its roof, interior, porch and siding. The final blaze at the home happened Aug. 20.

According to court records, Southwell confessed to setting the five fires to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who was investigating the Heart Seed fire.

At his arson trial this summer, Southwell’s federal defender, Kim Deater, argued that he was suffering from mental illness. She also said that his confession to ATF agents should not be allowed to be heard by jurors. However, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle ruled that the taped confession could be used as evidence.