VERNAL — A former Utah Highway Patrol trooper and fire chief has pleaded guilty to purposely sparking a blaze that ultimately charred 1,000 acres in eastern Utah.
Rex R. Olsen, 37, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of arson, a third-degree felony, as part of a plea deal. He was originally charged with arson, a second-degree felony. A separate misdemeanor charge of igniting a wildfire with a smoldering object was dropped as part of the deal.
The case cost him his trooper job.
Olsen, formerly the fire chief of Neola in Duchesne County, told investigators in June that he sparked the blaze "because he wanted to feel the excitement of it," charging documents state. Prosecutors argued that he tossed a lit cigarette into the brush and that GPS tracking showed his patrol car was in the area at the time.
The subsequent 1,000-acre Maeser Fire forced temporary evacuations of about 150 homes on June 9. It cost $800,000 in damage and firefighting efforts, and briefly closed state Route 121 in Uintah County. No injuries were reported.Comment on this story
His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20 by 8th District Judge Clark McClellan. He faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Olsen was also indicted on a separate federal charge that he intentionally started a different blaze. The fire on Bureau of Land Management property torched 900 acres and briefly closed a stretch of state Route 40 in eastern Utah in May. That case is still pending.
If convicted in federal court, Olsen could receive a sentence of up to five years in federal prison.
The UHP fired Olsen in July after conducting its own investigation, the Utah Department of Safety has said.