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Hayden Lake-area police on lookout for serial arsonist

This fire on East Sundown Drive in Hayden, seen Wednesday, was apparently set by an arsonist. (Scott Maben)
This fire on East Sundown Drive in Hayden, seen Wednesday, was apparently set by an arsonist. (Scott Maben)

An arsonist is keeping a Kootenai County neighborhood on edge in the middle of one of the worst fire seasons on record.

Investigators say at least 16 fires have been set this summer near homes just southwest of Hayden Lake. Most were spotted and extinguished soon after they were started, and none has caused serious damage or injuries.

Still, the arson spree between Dalton Gardens and Hayden Lake has left residents fearful and vigilant. Some have reported suspicious vehicles or even confronted strangers loitering in the area.

The latest fires were set late last week, said Jim Lyon, spokesman for the Northern Lakes Fire District.

“What we’re asking is for people to be hypervigilant,” Lyon said Wednesday.

Several residents have spotted the fires within minutes of them being set, based on the small size, but haven’t been able to give investigators a good description of a suspect.

“If we can get license plate numbers and very specific information, that really helps us,” Lyon said.

The Idaho State Fire Marshal is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

Alexis Rollins, who lives on East Grandview Drive near where several of the fires were set, was driving home last week when she spotted smoke from the most recent blaze up on the hill of Woodland Heights.

“It’s scary when you look up because you don’t know, where’s my house supposed to be?” Rollins said.

Their next-door neighbors had a close shave with one of the fires – standing on their deck spraying water on flames licking at the bottom of the house. “That for me is scary, just the fact it’s people’s houses are at stake,” Rollins said.

“It’s just frustrating,” said her sister, Larissa.

“We are definitely all on guard,” said Deborah Glauser, who also lives on Grandview. “We have a backyard that’s completely natural, so I’m a little nervous.”

Glauser said she has lived in the neighborhood for most of 22 years. “And we’ve never had an issue like this before. It’s pretty scary.”

Most of the fires were set late in the day – between 4:30 and 9 p.m. – and in grassy areas on the edge of streets, Lyon said. Most burned between 100 and 200 square feet, although a couple spread across several thousand square feet.

One fire burned part of a horse pasture in Dalton Gardens, and another charred the bottom of two large trees.

“They didn’t have any damage,” Lyon said. “Was the potential there? Absolutely.”

As dry as it is, it’s only a matter of time before one of these fires does some serious property damage – or worse, Lyon said.

The case is being investigated by an arson task force with members of Kootenai County Fire and Rescue, the Northern Lakes and Spirit Lake fire districts, the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.

Fire agencies also are patrolling the area daily.

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