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Sept. 26, 2020

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32-count indictment returned against man accused of arson, criminal mischief in fire set in Southern Oregon

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PORTLAND — A 41-year-old man accused of lighting a fire near railroad tracks behind a home in Phoenix last week has been indicted on 32 criminal charges, including two counts of arson.

A Jackson County grand jury on Tuesday returned the indictment against Michael Jarrod Bakkela, charging him with two counts of first-degree arson, 15 counts of first-degree criminal mischief, 14 counts of recklessly endangering another and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine.

Bakkela is accused of setting a fire in the area of Quail Lane and Barnum Drive on the night of Sept. 8 that damaged 15 properties, threatened the lives of 14 people in nearby neighborhoods between Phoenix and Medford and contributed to the Almeda fire that ravaged the area, according to the sheriff’s office.

Bakkela is being held on an enhanced bail of $5 million and is set to be arraigned on the indictment Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court, according to court records.

According to the county Sheriff’s Office, residents in the 1100 block of Quail Lane called 911 at 5:09 p.m. Sept. 8 to report that a man, later identified as Bakkela, was lighting a fire near the railroad tracks behind their home. A deputy took Bakkela into custody a short time later.

Detectives suspect Bakkela drove into a gated area, parked a vehicle, started a fire and then fled north before he was stopped, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The initial arson charges accuses Bakkela of unlawfully and intentionally damaging property at 252 Hoyt Lane in Phoenix by starting a fire. The second arson charge only references a longitude and latitude location of the Jackson County property impacted. The criminal mischief charges accuse Bakkela of intentionally damaging or destroying property at 15 other addresses on Hoyt Lane, West Glenwood Road and Voorhies Road in northern Phoenix.

He is also accused of recklessly endangering 14 people in neighborhoods by unlawfully and recklessly creating a substantial risk of serious physical injury.

Brandon Hazelett said he was working with others at the Rogue Soil business that night, spraying water on the building and fields to try to save them from spreading fires.

“We were spraying water until we couldn’t,” he said.

They saved most of the building but “our yard is still on fire” on the 20-acre property, he said Tuesday afternoon.

Simon Blair, the owner of Rogue Soil, was among the area property owners who testified via video against Bakkela before the grand jury, according to court records. Rogue Soil was listed as a victim in one of the criminal mischief counts.

Jose Ayala Gallegos said he and his family frantically evacuated their home in the 300 block of Hoyt Lane as fire spread.

“I lost everything. I lost my house, my work truck, a collector’s car I had for 30 years,” he said, speaking from his father-in-law’s house.

When he went back and found his home gone, Gallegos said Medford detectives were in the area and took his name and information. Gallegos also was listed as one of the victims of in the criminal mischief counts. He said he had never seen Bakkela before in the neighborhood.

Bakkela pleaded not guilty to the initial allegations. Though the Sheriff’s Office described Bakkela as a transient, he has a current address in Salem and a prior one in Central Point, according to court records. He was on probation for an October 2019 methamphetamine possession conviction and is accused of harassment stemming from a crash involving a stolen car in November 2019 in Central Point.

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