Missouri man flies to California, sets 13 wildfires, then tries to fly home, cops say

UPDATE: The wildfires in this story were set Sept. 21 and 22 and are unrelated to the current wildfires in California.

A Missouri man flew to California, spent two days setting wildfires, then tried to fly home, officials say. He was arrested Monday.

Freddie Graham, 68, hopped on a flight from Missouri to San Jose last Thursday, KPIX reported. After renting a car, he spent the next two days setting fires as he drove the “narrow, windy roads” between Ed Levin Park and the Calaveras Reservoir in the foothills near San Jose, Deputy District Attorney Bud Porter said.

Man accused of setting California fires already faced arson charge near Kansas City

Officials say Graham would light pieces of paper on fire and then toss them out of his window as he drove, The East Bay Times reported. He’s believed to have set at least 13 fires — four on Friday and nine on Saturday — which are collectively referred to as the Reservoir Fire, officials say.

It took hours for firefighters to put out Friday’s blazes, officials say, but Saturday’s proved even more tenacious, taking firefighters the rest of the weekend to extinguish them, The East Bay Times reported. The fire burned more than 128 acres, though no injuries or damaged structures were reported.

Officials were alerted to Graham’s alleged involvement when a witness noticed his rental car near the blazes and took note of the license plate, KPIX reported.

“But for that Good Samaritan coming forward with the license plate, this crime probably would never have been solved,” Porter said, according to The East Bay Times.

Graham was arrested Monday while trying to return his rental car at the San Jose airport, according to NBC Bay Area.

Officials say he was in Milpitas for his 50th high school reunion, which he attended Saturday evening after allegedly setting the fires, Mercury News reported.

After he was arrested, Graham told investigators he and his wife had planned to drive along Calaveras Road near the reservoir together before her death in 2018, according to the news outlet. A report by investigators states: “Because she passed away and could not be with him, it made him emotional, starting the fires.”

Graham is charged with a number of offenses including 13 felony counts of arson of brushland, as well as two charges related to committing arson during a state of emergency, NBC Bay Area reported.

If he’s convicted of all charges, Graham faces up to 22 years in prison, KPIX reported. His bail is set at $2 million and he’s scheduled to enter a plea on Sept. 30.

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Dawson covers goings-on across the central region, from breaking to bizarre. She is an MSt candidate at the University of Cambridge and lives in Kansas City.