UHP trooper intentionally set Uintah County Maeser Fire, prosecutors say
(KUTV) A June wildfire in Uintah County that caused more than $800,000 in damage was intentionally set, the Utah Attorney General's Office said Tuesday.
Rex Richard Olsen, 27, was charged Tuesday with arson, a second degree felony, in connection with the fire that began June 9 near Maeser Highway, just outside Vernal. At the time, Olsen was a Utah Highway Patrol trooper but has since been terminated.
According to charging documents, Olsen admitted using a cigarette to start the fire "because he wanted to feel the excitement of it."
Investigators said they discovered a "burned cigarette and match combination" that used the cigarette "as a timed fuse," according to the documents. Video evidence from a local gas station led investigators to Olsen, prosecutors said. GPS data from Olsen's patrol car also showed he was in the area at the time the fire started.
According to Utah Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Marissa Cote, the department began investigating June 21 after learning of the criminal investigation against Olsen. He was placed on administrative leave June 30 and fired the next day, Cote said.
"Throughout the investigation, the Department of Public Safety has worked closely with investigators and will continue to do so," Cote said in a statement. "We regret when incidents happen involving our personnel which reflect negatively on our department."
Olsen was also charged with a misdemeanor violation of Wildland Fire Protection. He could face up to 15 years in a prison and a fine of up to $10,000 if convicted.