Man Who Ignited Separate Blaze During the Almeda Fire, Sentenced

The Jackson County District Attorney’s Office announced today that Michael Jarrod Bakkela was sentenced on a count of Arson in the First Degree, sixteen counts of Criminal Mischief in the First Degree, and two counts of Animal Abuse in the First Degree in Jackson County Circuit Court. Mr. Bakkela entered pleas of no contest to these charges on May 4, 2022. Judge David Hoppe imposed a sentence of eleven years in the custody of the Oregon Department of Corrections, followed by three years of post-prison supervision and restitution in an amount to be determined.

In a statement, the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office remarked: The resolution in this case is not taken lightly by the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office. It is not ideal, and frankly, nothing the criminal justice system can do will make the victims of Mr. Bakkela’s fire whole. The loss of memories, irreplaceable heirlooms and keepsakes, and the consequences of higher taxes on new properties cannot be quantified in a prison sentence. The general public will likely view Mr. Bakkela’s punishment as not severe enough. However, the decision of the District Attorney’s Office brings finality to this ordeal for the victims. If this case proceeded to trial, and Mr. Bakkela was convicted, those same felony convictions that are now signed, sealed and delivered would be left for the Oregon Appellate Court System to review. The litigation and review in the appellate system would likely take years and could very well result in the dismissal of the felonies, leaving the State with only misdemeanor charges.

The Jackson County Grand Jury indicted Mr. Bakkela on September 15, 2020. The indictment was a result of Mr. Bakkela’s actions on September 8, 2020.

On September 8, 2020, at some time after 4:30 pm, a witness observed Mr. Bakkela use his truck and a chain to pull open the locked railroad gate on Dano Way. This witness then observed the truck get high centered on the railroad tracks as it tried to drive down the rails. During this time the truck’s wheels were spinning and he could see smoke coming from the truck. Eventually, the truck stalled out, and rolled down from the tracks to a resting position in the tall grass. At some point, railroad employees drove by the scene in their truck and observed Mr. Bakkela with oil on his arms carrying a gas can near the truck. At approximately 5:00 pm, a resident hosing down her backyard at 1109 Quail Lane, observed Mr. Bakkela wearing a white hard hat approximately six hundred feet from her location kneel four feet in front of the truck. She stated when he stood up she could see smoke start in the area. This witness then called for her husband to come stop Mr. Bakkela from leaving. When she saw Mr. Bakkela again on the railroad tracks he had on his hard hat, a chainsaw, two backpacks, and was pushing a bicycle. Her husband held Mr. Bakkela at gun point until law enforcement arrived and took him into custody.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy searched Mr. Bakkela and seized a lighter from his pocket, in addition to the two backpacks. Mr. Bakkela provided the deputy a statement, in which he claimed that the vehicle had stalled out and he was trying to get it started by putting gas into the engine area. He claimed he actually got it started and moved the car about 20 feet before the truck started smoking and he could see fire under the hood. This is when Mr. Bakkela claims he grabbed his property and started walking down the railroad until being detained. The next day the deputy provided the backpacks to detectives and a search warrant was executed. The backpacks contained a flare, butane, methamphetamine, plyers, cell phone, a switch mechanism, bottle of 2-cycle oil, and a Medford Police Department polo shirt.

On September I0, 2020, at about 8:45 am, Oregon State Police arson investigators arrived at the scene of the fire caused by Mr. Bakkela. These investigators determined that based upon burn patterns, fire dynamics, and witness statements the fire was intentionally set with an origin about fifteen feet north of the truck and driven by the wind in a northwestern direction. The truck itself was consumed by the intensity of the fire. Several soil samples were taken around and inside the area oforigin and sent to the lab to test for accelerants. All test results returned “no ignitable liquid residue.”

The fire started by Mr. Bakkela on September 8, 2020 burned in a northwesterly direction and destroyed and/or damaged Rogue Soil, Northwest Hemp Growers Industrial Hemp Farm, and fourteen residences on Hoyt Lane, W Glenwood Road, and Voorhies Road. The fire also killed several animals in the vicinity.

The District Attorney’s Office made a Toughy request to the Federal Government through the Department of Commerce to allow a local National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist to testify in this trial. A Touhy request is the formal process to request permission for a federal employee to testify in state court because state subpoenas are not enforceable against federal employees. The testimony would have explained relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and red flag warnings. This testimony would’ve helped to build an evidentiary record to support a finding there was “a risk of serious physical injury” under the conditions present. The Office of General Counsel for the Department of Commerce in Washington D.C. denied the request.

In Mr. Bakkela’s fire the arson investigator states the origin of the fire is approximately fifteen feet in front ofthe truck. In this vicinity there is a small part of a rag found with some sticks that look out of place. Those items were sent to the crime lab for testing and came back negative for any accelerants. The area where the fire appears to originate contains only grass, shrubbery, and some trees. The State planned to argue that the purpose of the fire was to burn the truck, but none of the area leading from the origin area to the truck contained accelerants according to lab testing. The investigators report even indicates that the truck was consumed by the back burn of the fire, which was being driven northwesterly by the wind.

On the day of this fire, the Almeda fire that started in Ashland and advanced north through the Rogue Valley, was still predominately burning east of Highway 99 on the outskirts of Phoenix when Mr. Bakkela started his fire at approximately 5:00pm. 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. 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 Almeda investigation is still on-going and a priority for local law enforcement.

Courtesy of Jackson County District Attorney’s Office