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

Police arrest suspected arsonist in West Hills fires

A “Burn Spokane Down” message can be read Aug. 4 under the railroad viaduct on Lincoln Street in downtown Spokane. Five fires started on the west side of the city on Aug. 3 afternoon, hours after the graffiti and other similar messages were reported to police.  (Garrett Cabeza / The Spokesman-Review)

A woman arrested in Tukwila, Washington, is accused of writing “Burn Spokane Down” in graffiti and then setting three fires that threatened homes and businesses and spurred evacuations last week in the West Hills area.

Vickie L. Smith, 53, was booked into the King County Jail on suspicion of three counts of first-degree arson and is awaiting transfer to Spokane, according to a Spokane police news release.

The fires started within a short time of each other, taxing firefighters and other emergency responders, police said.

The investigation also revealed Smith is suspected to be responsible for graffiti threats to burn Spokane that were written on numerous pillars and structures in the downtown area.

Additional charges related to the graffiti are pending, according to police.

Police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys and Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said they believe Smith acted alone in setting the fires.

Humphreys said police found evidence on Smith that matched evidence in the suspected arsons.

Schaeffer said an arrest came faster than expected given the complexity of the fires and the investigations, and he was extremely proud of investigators.

“It’s a high-performing team,” he said. “They operate as a team and brought their disciplines to the table and worked through the problem.”

Police thanked witnesses who assisted in the investigation.

The fires burned about 8 acres, according to previous reports.

Firefighters responded to a blaze Aug. 3 on the south side of Sunset Highway behind the Catalyst Project housing building. The fire jumped the highway and burned a hillside, threatening dozens of structures and resulting in evacuations, road closures and traffic delays.

Four additional fires started in the area of the Sunset Highway fire, Schaeffer said last week.

Schaeffer said Thursday the remaining two of the five fires are still under investigation.

There were no injuries, and no structures were burned as a result of the blazes.

Schaeffer said last week suspicious fires and calls for service in general increased this summer for Spokane firefighters.

“Arson is an extremely difficult crime to investigate and to charge and to convict, predominantly because it is an unwitnessed property crime, and by design the fire eliminates or removes the vast majority of evidence,” Schaeffer said.