State criminal investigators said Friday they’ve arrested a 17-year-old in connection with a string of fires since May that have put the Interior Alaska communities of Two Rivers and Pleasant Valley on edge, including a lodge that burned to the ground early Monday.
Charging documents identified the 17-year-old as Jamison Cloyd Gallion, who will be tried as an adult. State law allows 16- or 17-year-olds to be tried as adults when they’re charged with certain crimes, including first-degree arson, the state Department of Law said.
The Daily News does not typically identify minors accused of crimes, but is identifying Gallion because he is being charged as an adult.
Two Rivers is east of Fairbanks along Chena Hot Springs Road and is home to just over 650 people. Community officials said 11 buildings have burned in the area since May. An investigation into other fires in the area is underway, the Department of Law said.
Charging documents released Friday afternoon catalogue the circumstances around seven fires in the area since May.
The Alaska State Troopers said in a statement Friday that Gallion was seen on surveillance video filling a gas can at a local gas station just before a fire was set at Two Rivers Lodge, a restaurant and bar.
Including the fire at Two Rivers Lodge, Gallion admitted to starting seven fires described in the charging documents, according to an affidavit provided by Alaska Deputy Fire Marshal Kyle Carrington. In some cases he entered structures illegally to start fires from the inside, sometimes using gasoline, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit also says Gallion said he wrote three letters to the Pleasant Valley Community Association this summer, to “taunt both the community and the law enforcement investigation.”
Troopers said Gallion lives in Interior Alaska.
After receiving search warrants for the residence where Gallion lives, investigators obtained digital and physical evidence in the case, troopers said.
Gallion is being held at the Fairbanks Youth Facility on two counts of first-degree arson, five counts of second-degree arson, and multiple counts of burglary and criminal mischief, troopers said. Gallion will likely face additional charges, troopers said.
Gallion appeared Friday in Fairbanks District Court, with bail set at $1 million cash performance, the Department of Law said in a statement.
Troopers and the Alaska State Fire Marshal’s Office made the arrest Thursday evening, the troopers statement said. The months-long investigation involved the Alaska State Troopers, the Alaska Fire Marshal, the FBI and other agencies, troopers said.
Two Rivers has no fire department, but residents formed a neighborhood watch group in the wake of the fires, and the Pleasant Valley Community Association raised more than $20,000 to reward people providing information about the fires.
Most of the fires listed in the affidavit were reported after midnight. They were, according to the affidavit:
• May 16 at the Pleasant Valley Thrift Store.
• June 19 at the Pleasant Valley Community Center.
• July 3 at a residence.
• July 24 at the Grange Hall Community Center.
• Aug. 18 at the a building previously known as the Wagon’s North Trading Post.
• Aug. 19 at a residence.
• Aug. 23 at the Two Rivers Lodge.
The fire at the Two Rivers Lodge, a community gathering spot near Mile 16 of Chena Hot Springs Road, forced five people to evacuate and displaced a woman who lived in an upstairs apartment in the building.
Carrington, the deputy fire marshal, said in the affidavit that Gallion used his cell phone to report the fire last week at the former Wagon’s North Trading Post to authorities. Call records identified his phone number, the affidavit says.
Troopers also talked with Gallion at the scene of the Aug. 19 residential fire, the affidavit says. He was parked along the road in his black 2017 Toyota 4Runner, and said he was on his way to work when he saw the fire, the affidavit says.
Troopers also stopped him in the same vehicle several miles west of the fire at the Two Rivers Lodge on Monday, the affidavit says. Gallion also said he was headed to work.
Carrington said in the affidavit that he visited the residence where Gallion lives at 1:40 a.m. Monday morning, shortly after the fire at the Two Rivers Lodge was reported.
Gallion said he was out late checking on a relative, who lives in the Pleasant Valley area, and Gallion said he was looking for suspicious activity related to the fires, the affidavit says. Investigators reached his grandmother, who said he had not visited her house, according to the affidavit.
Gallion also provided other inaccurate statements and his cell phone was seized, the affidavit says.
After obtaining search warrants, investigators found a receipt for a gas can purchased with Gallion’s debit card, the affidavit says. They found searches on his cell phone such as “what will happen if you are arrested for arson as a minor,” the affidavit says. The cell phone also showed searches for Two Rivers Lodge shortly before that fire was reported, according to the affidavit.
In an interview with the deputy fire marshal on Thursday, Gallion, accompanied by his parents and an attorney, said he started the seven fires and purchased the gas container to replace one that had burned in an earlier fire, the affidavit says. He also acknowledged writing the anonymous letters to the community association, the affidavit says.
In one of the letters, mailed on June 24, Gallion took credit for multiple fires and made “veiled threats of violence” if the July 4 community picnic was not canceled, the affidavit says. In a second letter, received by the association on July 8, said the author had burned the residence of a local family because the community had disobeyed the order to cancel the picnic, the affidavit says.