A former Utah Highway Patrol officer — already charged with arson in state court for intentionally starting a wildfire in northeastern Utah this summer — was federally indicted this week with purposefully starting another blaze in the area.
The latest case against Rex Richard Olsen, 37, of Roosevelt, alleges that on May 30, he started a fire on Bureau of Land Management land about 20 miles southeast of Vernal.
The blaze burned nearly 2,500 acres of brush, took four days to contain and temporarily shut down U.S. Highway 40.
If convicted as charged, Olsen faces up to five years in a federal prison.
In August, Olsen was charged in 8th District Court with second-degree felony arson for allegedly starting another fire, this one on June 9 near the town of Maeser, which is east of Vernal. He also was charged with a misdemeanor for violating wildland fire prevention restrictions.
The Maeser fire burned about 1,000 acres, forced the evacuation of a subdivision and triggered the closure of State Route 121 for several hours.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office said the cost of fighting the fire topped $800,000.
The blaze was started using a cigarette and a match, with the cigarette acting as a “timed fuse,” according to court records.
Olsen allegedly acknowledged starting the fire, and that he “did so because he wanted to feel the excitement of it.”
If convicted in state court, Olsen faces a potential prison term of up to 15 years.
Olsen worked for UHP from 2004 to 2012, when he left voluntarily to work in the private sector. But he was rehired about year ago, according to a Department of Public Safety spokesperson.
Following the Maeser fire, Olsen underwent an internal investigation by DPS and was fired on July 1, officials have said.
Olsen also served as fire chief of Neola in Duchesne County for several years, according to previous news reports.