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2020 Phoenix arsonist sentenced, Almeda Fire remains unsolved

Michael Jarrod Bakkela was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday for starting a fire in Phoenix, Oregon on Sept. 8, 2020.
Jackson County Sheriff's office
Michael Jarrod Bakkela was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday for starting a fire in Phoenix, Oregon on Sept. 8, 2020.

The Jackson County District Attorney’s office announced on Monday afternoon that an arsonist was sentenced after starting a fire on Sept. 8, 2020 in Phoenix, Oregon. It was not connected with the nearby Almeda Fire, according to officials.

Michael Jarrod Bakkela was sentenced on one count of first-degree arson, sixteen counts of first-degree criminal mischief, and two counts of first-degree animal abuse in Jackson County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years of post-prison supervision. Bakkela had entered pleas of no contest on May 4, 2022.

The fire Bakkela started on the afternoon of Sept. 8, 2020 was in Phoenix, Oregon. Arson investigators determined that the fire, located about 15 feet from his truck, was intentionally set. It consumed the vehicle and was spread by the wind. It destroyed two businesses, 14 residences and killed several nearby animals, according to the District Attorney's office.

That fire, however, was separate from the Almeda Fire, which started on the same day and was already burning in the area, but was located further east, according to the DA’s statement.

"Evidence supports that the fire started by Mr. Bakkela never goes east of the railroad tracks running through Phoenix, and the Almeda fire doesn't burn west of those same railroad tracks," the DA's statement reads. "Contrary to the internet speculation and multiple theories being discussed in the community, there is no evidence at this time to indicate Mr. Bakkela had any involvement in igniting the Almeda fire."

The railroad tracks provided a break between fires and, based on aerial photos, the DA's office does not believe the fires merged, according to Jackson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz.

The investigation into the Almeda Fire, which tore through the Rogue Valley the same week as numerous other fires in Oregon, is still ongoing.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.