Suspected serial arsonist arrested Down East

Posted Aug. 10, 2011, at 1:32 p.m.
Timothy K. Tiess
Washington County Sheriff’s Department
Timothy K. Tiess

PERRY, Maine — A local man has been arrested and charged with five counts of arson after he attempted to set several wildfires Down East last month, according to the Maine Forest Service.

Timothy K. Tiess, 37, of Perry was charged on Thursday, Aug. 4, with five counts of arson, which is a Class A crime punishable by imprisonment that could exceed 10 years.

Arson fires have been a problem for the Down East area since November 2009, particularly in the Marion Township, Dennysville, Pembroke and Perry areas. While Tiess is being charged only for fires allegedly set in July 2011, forest rangers suspect he may have set other wildfires in the last year and a half.

“Once we get a chance to further interview Tiess and when this case goes to court, we expect to find out a lot more,” forest service Fire Prevention Specialist Kent Nelson said Wednesday. Nelson said he also could not conclusively link Tiess to a series of structure fires in the Perry and Pembroke area.

“This arrest has been a long time coming and hopefully will provide Down East residents with some peace of mind,” Nelson said.

Tiess allegedly set seven small fires late last month in remote forested areas in Washington County. The fires reportedly were intended to create large wildfires, but due to prompt responses from the Maine Forest Service and fire departments from East Machias and Dennysville, each fire did not burn more than one-tenth of an acre, Nelson said.

“We credit the local fire departments with stopping these fires,’’ Nelson said. “We were very fortunate that no structures were involved.”

The locations of the fires were on private and state-owned forestland, including fires that were set on land owned by major landowners in the forest service’s Downeast District.

“These types of arsons are very hard to solve,” Courtney Hammond, forest service acting district ranger and lead investigator for the case, said in a prepared statement. “The fire starts were in a large geographic area and were set sporadically over a 20-month period. If the conditions weren’t favorable for the fire to spread, some of the small fires might not even have been reported.”

Serial arsonists are very tough to catch in the act, Nelson said. Not only do they start fires and then immediately leave the scene, but these crimes also usually occur in remote areas where there are no witnesses.

“We were very lucky that some of the fires were set on days when conditions did not allow them to spread,” said Nelson.

Nelson and Hammond credited the work of a task force that was initiated in late 2010 in direct response to the series of wildfires.

The group consisted of members of the Maine Forest Service, the State Fire Marshal’s office and the Washington County District Attorney’s office. By combining efforts, the task force was able to develop a cohesive written plan that outlined a series of steps to catch the serial arsonist, said officials.

Forest service rangers with special wildfire arson investigative skills from other areas of the state worked two- and three-day details in the Downeast District to gather evidence and patrol areas where the fires had been started, Nelson said.

“I can’t really comment on exactly how we apprehended Tiess,” Nelson said. “But we escalated our response and created the task force when we realized the problem was escalating.”

Nelson said Tiess became the primary suspect early in the investigation due to his three convictions in the 1990s for arson involving structures in Maine.

Investigators eventually were able to create a profile of the arsonist based on the patterns of activity, Nelson said.

Forest rangers in the Downeast District also provided valuable assistance with the investigation and were assisted by the Maine State Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees from the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge also helped out by patrolling the areas where the fires occurred.

As a means of gathering information on wildfire arson cases, the Maine Forest Service also distributed hundreds of posters to promote their Wildfire Arson Reward Program.

Anyone with any further information about this case or any others can call the wildfire arson hot line at 800-987-0257.

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