Contacts: Kent Nelson, (207) 287-4989
Bill Williams, (207) 287-4991
Maine Forest Rangers Apprehend Downeast Wildfire Arson Suspect
(August 10, 2011)
Maine Forest Service Organizes Local Arson Task Force
AUGUSTA, Maine -- After several months of intense investigation, a difficult wildfire arson case apparently has been solved by Maine Forest Service forest rangers, under the Maine Department of Conservation.
Timothy K. Tiess, 37, of Perry, Maine, was charged on Thursday, Aug. 4, with five counts of arson, which is a Class A crime punishable by imprisonment that could exceed 10 years.
Bill Williams, MFS Forest Protection Division director, credited the forest rangers for their hard work on this case.
“Without their extensive investigative skills, knowledge of wildfire arson and persistence, this case might have never been solved,” Williams said.
Tiess allegedly set seven small fires late last month in remote forested areas in Washington County. The fires reportedly were intended to create large wildfires, but due to the prompt response from the Maine Forest Service and fire departments from East Machias and Dennysville, each fire did not burn more than one-tenth of an acre.
The locations of these fires were on private and state-owned forestland, including fires that were set on land owned by major landowners in the Maine Forest Service’s Downeast District.
Arson fires have been a problem for the Downeast area since November 2009. While Tiess is being charged only for fires allegedly set in July 2011, forest rangers suspect he may have set other wildfires in the last year and a half.
“These types of arsons are very hard to solve,” said Courtney Hammond, MFS acting district ranger and lead investigator for this case. “The fire starts were in a large geographic area and were set sporadically over a 20-month period. If the conditions weren’t favorable for the fire to spread, some of the small fires might not even have been reported.”
Serial arsonists are very tough to catch in the act, according to MFS officials. Not only do they start fires and then immediately leave the scene, but these crimes also usually occur in remote areas where there are no witnesses.
MFS forest rangers worked with several other state and county agencies to solve this crime, which, if left unsolved, could have had negative affects on local forestry jobs and on threatened homes in the area. Fortunately, there was no significant damage to forest resources, according to MFS officials.
During the fall of 2010, MFS Regional Ranger Bill Hamilton initiated a Downeast Wildfire Arson Task Force. The group brought together members of the Maine Forest Service’s newly formed investigative team with the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Washington County District Attorney’s Office. By combining efforts, the task force was able to develop a cohesive written plan that outlined a series of steps to catch the serial arsonist.
MFS forest rangers with special wildfire arson investigative skills from other areas of the state worked two- and three-day details in the Downeast District to gather evidence and patrol areas where the fires had been started.
Tiess became the primary suspect early in the investigation due to his three prior convictions for arson from the 1990s, which involved structures in Maine.
Investigators eventually were able to create a profile of the arsonist based on the patterns of activity. This allowed rangers to be more efficient at allocating wildfire investigators and other firefighting resources in the large geographic area.
Forest rangers in the Downeast District also provided valuable assistance with the investigation and were assisted by the Maine State Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees from the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge also helped out by patrolling the areas where the fires occurred.
As a means of gathering information on wildfire arson cases, the Maine Forest Service also distributed hundreds of posters to promote their Wildfire Arson Reward Program.
Anyone with any further information about this Downeast wildfire arson case or any other cases can call the wildfire arson hotline at 1-800-987-0257. All information will be kept in strict confidence and still can be helpful in this case.