Former Utah fire chief pleads guilty to starting wildfire

A former Utah Highway Patrol trooper and fire chief on Tuesday pleaded guilty to intentionally starting a wildfire in northeastern Utah this summer — the second wildfire he has been indicted for this year.

Rex Richard Olsen, 37, pleaded guilty to starting a fire on June 9 that burned roughly 1,000 acres of sagebrush and grass near the town of Maeser, about 30 miles away from his own home in Roosevelt.

The blaze forced a subdivision of Maeser to evacuate, and temporarily shut down State Route 121.

He was charged in 8th District Court with second-degree felony arson. A misdemeanor for violating wildfire prevention restrictions was dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Investigators found a match and a cigarette where the fire started. According to court documents, the cigarette acted as a “timed fuse.” In an interview with fire officials, Olsen said he started the fire “because he wanted to feel the excitement of it.”

The damage the fire caused totaled more than $800,000, according to the Utah Attorney General’s office.

The felony arson charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

In October, Olsen was federally indicted with starting another wildfire in the same area. The fire burned nearly 2,500 acres of brush on Bureau of Land Management land about 20 southeast of Vernal.

The blaze — which started May 30 — took four days to contain and it temporarily closed U.S. Highway 40.

If convicted of the federal charges, Olsen could face up to five years in prison.

Olsen worked as a UHP trooper from 2004 to 2012. He left voluntarily to work in the private sector, but was rehired in 2016, according to the Department of Public Safety. He was fired on July 1, after an internal investigation by DPS.

According to previous news reports, Olsen was the fire chief in Neola, a small town in Duchesne County.

Comments:  (0)