Sheriff and fire investigators have few leads on some 35 fires over the past month and a half that have burned haystacks, fields and on abandoned house here.
The fires near the small south Utah county town started in late July. Nearly every week since then fires have been set from Goshen Canyon to Goshen and up Elberta Slant Road to Elberta. The road follows an old railroad path once used in mining operations, said sheriff's investigator Spencer Cannon.Some of the fires were small and burned themselves out. Others were doused by firefighters. Cannon said an arsonist is suspected because of the nature of the fires and their proximity to a road. A chicken coop was also burned.
The structure fires represented the heaviest losses - about $60,000 to $70,000 in damage, Cannon said.
"There's been no reports of lightning strikes. The only logical explanation is arson," he said.
Evidence left at the scene of each fire has been sparse. Authorities are investigating several individuals, but they won't say if they have a definite suspect.
Not all blazes may be attributed to an arsonist, county fire marshal Tom Wroe said. That's still being sorted out.
"I was hoping they'd catch him by now," Goshen resident Susan Vasher said. Her husband, Zale Vasher, had just replaced a haystack burned earlier when fire struck his new haystack last week. "We usually use a couple hundred ton over the winter. Now we're wondering what to do," she said.
Zale Vasher uses the hay for his sheep, cattle and horses on his ranch, located about a half-mile from his home.
Officials have been having town meetings and have set up neighborhood watches complete with captains hoping to prevent more fires.
If the fires are man-caused, someone is sneaking past farmers out watering their fields at night to set them, said Bill Jasperson, who lost $2,000 in hay to a fire. Hay costs about $70 a ton.
Many of the fires are near town, which leads some victims to believe the arsonist is walking from town into the fields to start the blazes.
One haystack of more than 400 bales weighing nearly a ton each burned in Ray Okelberry's field for 10 days. In a hay fire the top burns, but the rest of the haystack doesn't flame, he said. "It smolders like coal."
The fire destroyed $35,000 worth of his hay, which wasn't insured. "We just let it burn. There wasn't that much water." Okel-ber-ry said his loss was more than most of the other losses combined.
"Most everybody has insurance now," he said.
Okelberry said security has been beefed up but complained the town has no marshal or fire siren. The town contracts with the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
He said Goshen has become a haven for "desperados" because of its low rent and rural setting.
"I've heard that same complaint," said Sheriff's Lt. Ron Fernstedt. However, he said it is not supported by crime reports.
Fernstedt said a relationship between the Goshen fires and the fire last week on West Mountain near Payson could not yet be established. The West Mountain fire is still under investigation, but is believed to be arson. That fire started about 6 p.m. Friday. The West Mountain fire burned nearly 1,000 acres of juniper and sage brush and threatened several homes.
The latest Goshen haystack was set ablaze about midnight that same night, he said.