Man charged with arson in connection with Almeda Fire in southern Oregon

Toa55/iStockBY: MEREDITH DELISO, ABC NEWS

(PORTLAND, Ore.) –A man was arrested on arson charges Friday for allegedly setting a fire earlier this week in southern Oregon, while the region was already beset with the Almeda Fire.

Michael Jarrod Bakkela, 41, was charged with two counts of arson, along with 15 counts of criminal mischief and 14 counts of reckless endangering.

On Tuesday, residents called 911 after seeing a man light a fire behind their house in Phoenix around 5 p.m. local time, police said. The witnesses had fled their home “due to the impending fire,” the sheriff’s office said.

When Oregon State Police troopers and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived, Bakkela “was standing close to a very large fire threatening several homes,” the sheriff’s office alleged.

The fire eventually merged with the Almeda Fire, which had started about six hours prior in Phoenix, police said.

There is “significant damage” that police are attributing to the fire allegedly set by Bakkela, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Mike Moran told ABC News.

“There are numerous homes, many of which are burnt completely, some are just heavily damaged, that are part of the 15 counts of criminal mischief,” Moran said.

Bakkela initially was arrested on Tuesday for a probation violation on an original charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine. He was charged Friday afternoon in connection with the Almeda Fire. He is currently booked at the Jackson County Jail and will likely be arraigned on Monday.

The case has been referred to the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office and charges may be modified, police said.

Authorities are also conducting a separate criminal investigation into the initial origin of the Almeda Fire. A man was found dead about a mile from that origin point, in north Ashland, police said Friday.

A second death has also been announced in connection with the Almeda Fire, which has burned more than 5,700 acres and destroyed 700 structures.

On Friday, the FBI released a statement addressing rumors spread over social media that “extremists” were starting the fires.

“FBI Portland and local law enforcement agencies have been receiving reports that extremists are responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon. With our state and local partners, the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue,” the agency said in a statement. “Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control. Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources.”

ABC News’ Jenna Harrison and Matt German contributed to this report.

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