ST. GEORGE – A former Utah Highway Patrol trooper was sentenced to jail earlier this week for starting a wildfire in Uintah County last summer.
Rex Richard Olsen, who pleaded guilty to starting the June 2017 Maeser Highway Fire, was sentenced in 8th District Court Tuesday on a second-degree felony arson charge. An accompanying one-to-15 year prison sentence was suspended by the court in favor of a 180-day stint in the Uintah County Jail and 36 months probation, according to the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
Prosecutors are also seeking over $480,000 in restitution to cover damage caused by the fire, as well as the cost of fire suppression. A restitution hearing is set for June 27.
The Maeser Highway Fire was ignited June 9, 2017, and burned around 1,000 acres before being extinguished by firefighters.
At the time he set the fire, Olsen was on duty as a UHP trooper. The charges came after an investigation by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
According to court records, a state investigator determined the fire was ignited by “a delayed ignition device constructed to ignite a fire” using a cigarette like a “timed fuse.”
Evidence gathered during the investigation put Olsen in the area of the fire. Surveillance footage from a local gas station obtained by the investigator also showed Olsen purchasing the type of cigarette used to start the fire.
During an interview with the investigator, Olsen said he intentionally started the fire because he wanted to “feel the excitement of it.”
According to the Attorney General’s Office, Olsen also started a similar fire on land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management in Uintah County in June 2017. For that, he pleaded guilty to one count of underbrush and grass set afire, a class D felony, in the U.S. District Court for Utah.
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