An Othello man accused of torching large haystacks on Halloween night reportedly may have used flammable liquids to light the fires.
Burt Ray Johnson, 25, admitted to a Franklin County detective that he believes he started the fires, though he can't remember because he blacked out from excessive drinking, according to a probable cause affidavit. He was drinking in Othello on the night of the incident.
At least three haystacks within a short distance of each other near Sagehill and Wahluke roads in Franklin County were burned to the ground, the affidavit said. Another haystack, on Green Acres Road, and an open field near Sagehill Road also caught fire.
Johnson was arrested a day after the fires and booked into Franklin County jail on suspicion of second-degree arson. No one was injured in the fires.
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He made his first appearance in Franklin County Superior Court on Monday, which was his birthday. His bail was set at $10,000.
Prosecutors have until Wednesday to file charges. Johnson, who authorities believe acted alone, has no prior criminal history.
Johnson's adoptive father told investigators that he suspected his son started the fires, the affidavit said. He found matches inside the truck Johnson was driving the night of the fires and saw him acting suspiciously.
Authorities believe whoever set the fires parked a vehicle near the haystacks and walked to them to light the fires, the affidavit said.
Investigators found tire tracks and footprints near the charred haystacks, the affidavit said. The tracks were the same at each scene and matched the truck Johnson was driving. Shoes in Johnson's room matched the footprints found leading to one haystack.
Investigators went to Johnson's home on the 5100 block of Albany Road and interviewed him. Johnson told them he was hung over from the night before and showed them the clothes he was wearing.
Johnson's jeans, shirt and shoes were all wet, the affidavit said. His shirt had burn marks on it and his shoes were muddy. Johnson told investigators his shirt got burned when he helped firefighters put out the fires.
Johnson apparently lives close to where a few of the haystacks were burned.
As Johnson was heading to the sheriff's office to be interviewed, he told a detective, "I think I started those fires."
Johnson then followed up by saying he believed he started at least one of the fires.
He told the detective he has two memories from the night that make him believe he is responsible for the fires.
Johnson remembered possibly getting flammable liquids from a shed at his house and lighting a stack of one-ton hay bales with either a match or flint.
Johnson may have used gasoline, paint thinner, mineral spirits and other chemicals to start the fire, the affidavit said. He told the detective he must have used flammable chemicals because the fire spread so quickly.
Franklin Fire District 4 helped put the fires out and assisted in the investigation.
w Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter; @Ty_richardson