Investigators suspect serial arsonist caused Orem fires

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OREM — Police and fire officials in Orem confirmed Friday that they are looking for a serial arsonist.

Investigators believe Thursday's massive fire that burned an apartment complex under construction, as well as a smaller fire that burned a Provo police car 15 minutes earlier, can be linked to two similar fires in December.

"We do believe now that it was set by the same person that set the fire in late December," Orem Police Lt. Craig Martinez said.

On Dec. 19, a small fire was started at a gas station pump just minutes before a much larger fire was reported in the area of 875 N. State. Firefighters arrived to find an apartment complex under construction in flames.

Damage from both incidents was expected to reach between $1.5 million and $2 million, Martinez said.

In both cases, a small "distraction" fire was set before a much larger fire at a vacant building under construction was set.

"We do believe it's the same person — same M.O.," he said.

Investigators aren't sure whether they are looking for one arsonist or several working together.

We do believe it's the same person — same M.O.

–Orem Police Lt. Craig Martinez

On Friday, Orem's police and fire departments announced that a task force combining local, state and federal resources has been put together to help find the arsonist and "to make sure we get this guy before it happens again. So it's at the top of our priority list," Martinez said.

Orem police have a "lot of things in the works" to prevent another arson, including increased patrols around buildings currently under construction. Fire officials are also planning to meet with contractors to discuss how they might be able to increase security.

There are several large construction projects currently underway in Orem.

Orem Fire Battalion Chief Ryan Peterson said he will also be "saturating" construction sites with firefighters so they have a more visible presence.

The public is asked to report any suspicious activity they might see, such as anyone walking around a construction site at 3 a.m.

Martinez believes Thursday's torching of a police car was a crime of opportunity, but he said the arsonist is nonetheless becoming "a little bit more brazen."

"It's making a statement, that's for sure," he said. "It's hard to say (what that statement is), but he has our attention."

Martinez said investigators are working several "active leads" into finding the arsonist.

In Provo, a string of at least 10 arson-related fires in April destroyed several abandoned homes and vehicles. But as of Friday, Martinez said investigators do not believe those are related to the Orem cases.

Contributing: Sam Penrod

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