Former Utah state trooper sentenced to jail time for intentionally starting a wildfire ‘because he wanted to feel the excitement of it’

A former Utah Highway Patrol trooper was sentenced to six months in the Uintah County jail Tuesday for starting a 1,000-acre fire last year near the town of Maeser.

As part of his sentence, Rex Richard Olsen, 38, will be on probation for three years.

Olsen said he started the fire “because he wanted to feel the excitement of it,” according to court papers. Olsen was charged by the Utah Attorney General’s Office with arson, a second-degree felony, and with a violation of wildland fire prevention, a class B misdemeanor.

Olsen pleaded guilty in November in exchange for having the misdemeanor dropped.

This week, he was sentenced in 8th District Court in Vernal by Judge Clark McClellan. Olsen’s attorney, John Hancock, did not return a request for comment.

Olsen was charged Aug. 8 for starting the June 9 fire about 30 miles away from his own home in Roosevelt after an investigation found video evidence of Olsen buying the same type of cigarettes used as a “timed fuse” to start the fire.

GPS data also placed Olsen at the scene of the crime. According to court records, Olsen admitted to starting the fire for the thrill.

The investigation was done by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands. The Utah Department of Public Safety conducted its own investigation of Olsen in late June and fired him July 1.

The fire burned mostly grass and sagebrush, but caused the evacuation of a nearby subdivision and closed State Route 121 for several hours. Fire suppression costs exceeded $800,000.

Following his arrest for arson last summer, Olsen was charged in October for starting a second fire, this one on federal land. According to a federal indictment, Olsen started a fire May 30 on Bureau of Land Management land about 20 miles southeast of Vernal.

It burned nearly 2,500 acres of brush, took four days to contain and temporarily shut down U.S. Highway 40.

Olsen pleaded guilty to the federal charge in January. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 7 and faces up to five years in federal 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 also the fire chief in Neola, a small town in Duchesne County.

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