PRENTISS, Maine — A Prentiss Township man was arrested early Wednesday after the car of a state fire marshal investigating arson fires in the area was set ablaze, authorities said.
John Weckerly, 53, who lives about a half mile from the fire scene, was charged with arson, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
He said the fire destroyed the state-owned 2009 Chevrolet Impala of Fire Marshal Sgt. Timothy York, who had parked the car Tuesday night off Aurora Road while he and two other state fire officials conducted a follow-up investigation into arson fires that had been set in the area since late last year.
“When York returned to his car about 12:30 a.m., he found it had been set ablaze by a flammable liquid,” McCausland said in a press release. “The vehicle was destroyed, along with a number of personal items of York’s inside the car.”
In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, York said he had parked the car at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and and it was on fire when he returned.
“I called the Fire Department, called for help and stood there and watched it burn,” he said. “What are you going to do? It was burning and I didn’t have any way to put it out.”
A team of fire investigators, game wardens, Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies and Maine State Police troopers went to the fire scene, McCausland said. A state police dog followed a scent that led to Weckerly’s property, he said.
Weckerly was arrested at his home about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and taken to the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor.
York and the two other officials from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Ed Archer and Scott Richardson, were in Prentiss conducting an investigation into three arsons that had occurred in the area over the past 10 months, McCausland said.
“The prior fires that brought investigators to the town last night damaged a garage and a seasonal camp,” McCausland said Wednesday.
The garage was set on fire last November and again on July 3, and the camp fire, which destroyed the structure, was reported on July 20.
“The investigation into those fires continues,” McCausland said.
He declined to say whether Weckerly was a suspect in those arsons.
The garage at a camp on Aurora Drive, a dirt road in a deeply rural location off Tar Ridge Road, was damaged on Nov. 16. The garage door and its door frame were partly burned with the use of an incendiary, according to a letter written by York to the camp’s owner, Christopher Jones, 61, of Newton, N.J., dated Aug. 1.
State police were in the vicinity of Jones’ cabin investigating reports of graffiti, broken windows and lug nuts stolen from trucks on his and other owners’ property shortly before the November fire occurred, Jones said.
Jones and other landowners in the area interviewed Wednesday said that Weckerly was somewhat eccentric. Known around the area as “moped man” because he drove one, Weckerly was a loner often seen muttering to himself, neighbors said.
Jones said he suspected that the fire which damaged the garage at his camp was set by several people.
Jones said he hasn’t visited the camp in several years, having bought it before the year 2000 in preparation for the Y2K problem, or the Millennium bug, the suspected collapse of computers worldwide due to a programming malfunction in date-related computer processing.
He said his cabin has no insurance.
Weckerly was arrested in 2007 for disposing of lighted material, but the charges against him later were dismissed, according to court listings printed in the Bangor Daily News.
“We believe it’s the first time that a vehicle belonging to the office was set on fire,” York said of Tuesday night’s arson.
Firefighters from Kingman Fire Department extinguished the car fire.
Prentiss is a small, remote community in Penobscot County located about 15 miles northeast of Lincoln and Chester off Interstate 95.