News-Miner opinion: Residents of Two Rivers will sleep a little more soundly tonight knowing their homes are safe. That knowledge is due to the hard work of Alaska’s law enforcement agencies.
The Alaska State Troopers’ arrest of a teen-age boy who now stands accused in a string of arson fires may end the surreal nightmare of the past months.
An arsonist has made the area a target for fires that have charred public, commercial and residential properties alike. At least two of the residential fires were set with residents inside the homes. The latest conflagration destroyed the iconic Two Rivers Lodge. Five people escaped the blazing building and were uninjured. The fire in the community of about 600, along with at least nine other blazes since May, was being investigated as an arson. It is the third such investigation along a six-mile stretch of the Chena Hot Springs Road being in less than a week.
Those who live in the mostly wild area along Chena Hot Springs Road say they are frustrated, afraid, angry, saddened and psychologically devastated. Who could blame them? “Please pray,” Two Rivers Lodge worker Christine Guzman posted on Facebook before the arrest. “This has to stop.”
Jamison Gallion was arrested Thursday night and faces multiple counts of arson and criminal mischief. He will be tried as an adult and was being held in lieu of $1 million bond in Fairbanks, troopers say. More charges are expected as the investigation continues. Gallion was arrested after being seen on surveillance video filling a gas can at a local station just before the Two Rivers Lodge fire was set.
Troopers had asked home and business owners in the area to set up game cameras to keep track of comings and goings around their property. Two Rivers residents formed a neighborhood watch group and some were working to establish a volunteer fire department, something the small community lacks.
Additional lights, cameras and security systems are always a good idea, as the suspect’s actions being captured by a surveillance camera shows.
Unfortunately, the Two Rivers-Pleasant Valley fires are not that unusual across the country. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s U.S. Fire Administration figures show arson as the leading cause of fires in this nation. It says an estimated 267,000 fires in the U.S. each year are attributed to arson, causing $1.4 billion in property loss. Arson fires injure more than 2,000 people each year, with 475 deaths.
The crime is easy to commit, but hard to solve and prosecute, investigators say. The crimes are carried out in secrecy, with much of the evidence destroyed by flames. Statistics from 2019, the latest available, show only 23.4 percent of arson crimes are solved annually across the nation. Some investigators say that percentage is even lower.
Troopers and others who worked to arrest the suspect are to be congratulated for their hard, tireless work. Our hearts go out to the residents of the area who have had to live this nightmare and we can only hope the arrest will ease concerns and fears.