Authorities: Serial arsonist to blame for major Orem fires

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OREM, Utah (AP) — Authorities are searching for a serial arsonist they say is responsible for setting separate fires that destroyed apartment complexes under construction in Orem.

Police and fire officials said they think the suspect set smaller fires to distract authorities before torching the apartment buildings in Orem, which is 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.

A Provo police cruiser was set on fire shortly before the latest apartment fire Thursday, and a gas-station pump was torched minutes before the other apartment fire on Dec. 19.

Officials estimate the total damage of both fires is over $2 million. No injuries were reported in any of the blazes.

Both cases are similar in that they involve apartment buildings under construction and smaller "distraction fires," police Lt. Craig Martinez said at a news conference Friday.

"We do believe it's the same person, same MO," he said. "(The arsonist is) getting a little more brazen now ... We need to catch this guy."

The department has formed a task force that has making an arrest as its top priority. Investigators are pursuing leads and asking for the public's help.

Last spring, firefighters in nearby Provo responded to at least 10 smaller arson-related blazes that mostly involved abandoned buildings. But investigators do not believe they were related to the Orem cases, Martinez said.

Authorities said they would boost patrols at Orem construction sites and advise contractors to hire private security. The public is being asked to report anyone acting suspiciously around construction sites, especially after dark.

"It is an emotional challenge for our firefighters," fire Battalion Chief Ryan Peterson said. "Fire prevention is our No. 1 priority."

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