A change in lifestyle might be necessary if farmers are going to protect their haystacks from an arsonist.
"We need to be better risk managers and figure how much we can lose at one time," County Fire Marshal Tom Wroe told farmers in ameeting Wednesday night.
"Anything you can do is to your benefit, but there is no one thing you can do to save yourselves," Wroe said. "Don't think it is going to do anything but get worse."
The meeting was held in reaction to more than 16 fires believed to be the result of arson beginning as early as September 1990.
Mike Larson, a commercial alfalfa grower from Highland, said he lost $12,000 worth of hay in a fire started in November. One night later, his neighbor lost a similar amount to another fire.
Both fires were started by matchbooks attached to a lighted cigarette.
After another string of fires started in April, Utah County officials became concerned that farmers would overreact and someone would get hurt.
Sgt. Jim Tracy of the Utah County Sheriff's office said information is the best way farmers can help stop the arson.
"At this point in time, a haystack is not worth the life of either the victim or the suspect," Tracy said. "We don't need an accident in addition to the fires."
Investigators have determined no motive behind the fires, and the list of suspects continues to grow.
The vehicle used by the arsonist was reported as a two-tone 1973 or newer pickup, with brown possibly being the darker of the two colors. The truck is also reported to have a loud exhaust system.
But officials are not certain exactly what the vehicle's description is.
"It still eludes us why we can't find this individual," Tracy said. "It is clearly someone who has taken the time to case the area before starting the fires, so anytime you see something suspicious we need the information."
Word to the wise
Utah County fire marshall Tom Wroe has the following suggestions to help combat an arsonist who has set fire to more than 16 haystack fires:
- Build smaller haystacks and move them away from buildings and roads.
- Place firebreaks between haystacks.
- Keep such equipment as front-end loaders available to remove burning bales from haystacks.
- Locate a good source of water from which trucks can pump.
- Stack dry haystacks tighter to keep fire from falling between cracks and getting out of control.