Sheriff: Men keep lighting illegal fires in front of fire crews

Sheriff: Men keep lighting illegal fires in front of fire crews
Larry Smith and Keith Strickland.

TWISP, Wash. -- A pair of Twisp residents simply refuse to stop setting illegal fires, going so far as to light them in full view of fire crews who've just asked them to not do so, according to the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office.

According to the Sheriff's Office, the first suspect, 63-year-old Larry Smith, was originally arrested on suspicion of arson July 18 for starting a back-burn fire on Benson Creek Road despite being told not to by fire crews, who said it was unsafe. Smith reportedly lit the fire anyway and was arrested.

A back burn is a method used to slow forest fires by burning flammable material.

This week, Smith was once again arrested on suspicion of arson after witnesses took photos of him starting a back-burn fire on Benson Creek Road that ended up destroying Forest Service property. He is also suspected of lighting another fire on Finley Canyon Road and Konrad Road.

Sixty-year-old Keith Strickland was also arrested on suspicion of arson this week in connection with the second Benson Creek Road fire. According to the Sheriff's Office, he was with Smith when they started that back burn.

Fire crews had asked Strickland not to start any fires because they were already on the scene to fight the current fire. The crews then watched as Strickland reportedly lit the back burn anyway.