Missouri man faces 15 counts of arson over Northern California fires

Freddie Owen Graham.
(Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department)

A man who authorities say traveled from Missouri to Northern California to set more than a dozen wildfires by tossing flaming pieces of paper out of his rental car’s window has been charged with 15 counts of arson.

Freddie Owen Graham of Lone Jack, Mo., was jailed Thursday on $500,000 bail. He was arrested Monday as he tried to return his rental car to a San Jose airport.

The Mercury News reports that Graham, 68, declined through his public defender to discuss the case.


Authorities say he set 13 fires on Friday and Saturday. Although the blazes caused no injuries or structural damage, they took dozens of firefighters using aircraft, bulldozers and other equipment hours to extinguish. One blaze, near the Calaveras Reservoir, blackened less than a quarter of a square mile.

Prosecutors say Graham drove through a foothill area northeast of San Jose, throwing flaming paper out of his car as he went.

“The fires were set with a lighter, setting paper on fire and throwing it out the window of the car,” said Bud Porter, Santa Clara County’s supervising deputy district attorney.

Graham was caught at the airport after someone saw him, wrote down his car’s license plate number and notified firefighters. “But for that good Samaritan coming forward with the license plate, this crime probably would never have been solved,” Porter said.

Graham, who traveled to California from the Kansas City, Mo., suburb of Lone Jack, has no obvious connection to California, and authorities couldn’t say what might have motivated him to start the fires. He was charged with 13 felony counts of arson of brushland and two of committing arson during a state of emergency. The later charges relate to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s declaration last March that wildfire threats facing California this year have reached emergency proportions.

If convicted of all counts, he faces up to 22 years in prison.