PROVO — Police are offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of a person or group of people suspected of committing 10 acts of arson since March.
The fires have taken place as recently as Tuesday, when three separate incidents were reported, and investigators said they believe the fires have all been intentionally set. Provo Mayor John Curtis formed a joint task force and has called on the public to help solve the case.
"We don't like fire — it's predictable in an unpredicatable kind of way," Provo Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield said Wednesday. "My concern and our task force's concern is that at some point somebody is going to get hurt, because they're going to either get overconfident or they're going to initiate a fire on an evening where the weather is not good."
The arsonist appears to be targeting vacant and boarded-up structures, investigators said. Multiple unoccupied homes and one vehicle have been damaged or destroyed, police said.
The 10 separate fires occurred on March 13, March 24, April 11, April 19 and April 22. The properties that have been targeted were owned by a variety of owners and are now on track to be removed within two weeks, Curtis said.
March 13: one single family home, 262 E. 700 North
March 24: two duplexes, 163 W. 4800 North
April 11: three duplexes, 201 W. 4800 North
April 19: one duplex, 1500 W., 4800 North
April 22: single family home, 1585 W. Center Street; vehicle, 550 W. 600 South; debris, 400 W. 500 South
The cases appear to be linked because a K9 unit has detected an ignitable liquid was used to start all of the fires, and all of the structures have been vacant and boarded-up at the time the arson occurred, investigators said. They said the vehicle that was set on fire appears to be an outlier.
“What I think is important for people to understand is the seriousness of this offense — maybe the person who is setting these fires thinks they are just unoccupied buildings, but this is a dangerous precedent to set and there are many ways that people can get very seriously injured in these fires and we need to stop them immediately,” Provo Police Chief John King said.
Curtis said the task force has been working with neighborhood chairmen and property owners to identify buildings that could be targets, and that additional officers will be patrolling the city. Investigators said most of the fires appear to be taking place between 1-5 a.m., so the public should be especially aware of suspicious activities during those early morning hours.
"People who are usually awake at that time of night know the norm and flow of the city," King said. "Our firefighters and police officers who work the midnight shift clearly know that, but the neighbors know their neighborhood and so if there is something amiss in their neighborhood, anywhere in the city, we need them to call in suspicious activity. With that information, we're going to make that link."
Police said they have several persons of interest but no current suspects in connection to the arson. Investigators said they are currently considering all types of motivation for starting the fires.
"We're limited in eyes and ears in the city with our police, fire and other personnel, but when you take 115,000 residents and they keep their eyes open and watch for things that are out of place in the city you can imagine our ability to solve this crime gets magnified many times," Curtis said.
Residents have been asked to keep their eyes open and report suspicious activity, especially near vacant buildings in the overnight hours.
Neighborhood representatives were asked Wednesday to identify properties, such as vacant buildings, that could be targeted so police can watch those areas closely.
Investigators aren't sure if the same person started the fires or if there are copycats.
Anyone with information about the person or persons responsible for the arson can call the tip hotline at 801-852-7400.