A 68-year-old man from the Kansas City region is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars after he allegedly traveled from Missouri to Northern California with the intention of setting over a dozen wildfires throughout the fire-prone Golden State.
Freddie Owen Graham of Lone Jack, MO, was jailed Thursday on $500,000 bail after being charged with 15 felony counts of arson. The suspected pyromaniac was arrested Monday after he tried to drop off the rental car he used in the arson spree, which burned nearly 130 acres of brush.
According to East Bay Times, Graham rented the car after arriving in the Bay Area and drove toward the Calaveras Reservoir east of Milpitas, where he then threw flaming fast food napkins into the dry, grassy foothills, setting off 13 fires within a 24-hour span over the weekend.
The East Bay Times noted that his style of arson fit “a description that resembles a firebug Johnny Appleseed.”
Mugshot of Freddie Owen Graham, 68, of Missouri, arrested on suspicion of numerous counts of arson in connection with Reservoir Fire in Santa Clara County, per @CAL_FIRE @calfireSCU pic.twitter.com/uvmCqpnTKr
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) September 26, 2019
Santa Clara County’s supervising deputy district attorney Bud Porter said:
“The fires were set with a lighter, setting paper on fire and throwing it out the window of the car.”
Santa Clara County prosecutors say that Graham set four fires Friday and nine more on Saturday before he attempted to return a car at a Hertz rental company location at Mineta San Jose International Airport on Monday. It was at that point that he was arrested by officials from CAL FIRE—or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Graham had seemingly been unaware that a witness spotted his car during the rampage and took note of his license plate number before handing it to CAL FIRE investigators.
“But for that Good Samaritan coming forward with the license plate, this crime probably would never have been solved.”
Fortunately, the fires, which have been collectively dubbed the Reservoir Fire, caused no major structural damage or injuries. The fires were extinguished thanks to firefighters who used aircraft, bulldozers, and other equipment for hours. One of the fires near the reservoir scorched nearly a quarter of a square mile.
Through his public defender, Graham has refused to speak to the press and said that he has no public comment on his arrest.
In total, the suspected arsonist is facing 13 felony counts of arson of brushland and two additional counts alleging an arson committed during a state of emergency. In March, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the year’s wildfire season.
— CALFIRENEWS (@CALFIRENEWS_CA) September 21, 2019
If convicted of all counts, he will spend 22 years behind bars.
While officials say that Graham had no apparent connections to California or clear motive behind his targeting of the reservoir, East Bay Times reports that a Facebook profile under his name and claiming Blue Spring, Missouri as his current residence also lists Milpitas as his hometown and says that he attended the nearby San Jose State University.
According to court documents uncovered by Fox 4 Kansas City, Graham was charged in Jackson County for allegedly “knowingly burning or exploding” someone else’s property, earning him a criminal infraction charge. The documents show that on August 12, 2018, authorities were notified that a tractor-trailer filled with bales of hay had been set alight.
Over the past week alone, 180 new wildfires erupted across the Golden State, causing CAL FIRE officials to warn residents to be vigilant about the emergence of blazes like those that have ravaged California in recent years.
Scott McLean from the CAL FIRE Information Center said:
“There is still fire danger. We cannot be complacent … [the] Mediterranean climate dries out our vegetation so fast and makes it susceptible to fire, [so] we have to be prepared going through November.”