VERNON-Five unoccupied buildings were torched, and three are being investigated as arson. Vernon residents and the Vernon Fire District want answers while they remain vigilant and wait for a response from the Apache County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO).
According to the Vernon Fire District, the fires began on December 27 and three are deemed arson, so far.
“I definitely can confirm that we do have three fires we can tie together that meet the criteria for arson. We had a fourth yesterday that’s under investigation at this time. We may have a fifth,” said Vernon Fire District Assistant Chief Nick Perrone.
The fires were on December 27, January 9, January 19, and January 23. A fifth structure is still under investigation.
The Vernon Fire District typically responds to about 12 fires in a year in their district. However, the district said it has already reported up to eight fire-related incidents in the last few weeks.
The Jan. 24 Vernon community meeting was hosted by the Vernon Fire District and was packed with concerned residents.
Perrone voiced concern about the response and cooperation of ACSO.
“We are not getting the cooperation from ACSO like we should be at all; I have reached out multiple times, and we’ve reached out again today. We know what the issues are with ACSO in our area, and I really need all of you to put the pressure on ACSO,” said Chief Perrone.
Perrone stated that there has to be a law enforcement partner, and it has to be a local jurisdiction. Vernon Fire District cannot bring in the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office or federal resources into an investigation, it must be local law enforcement.
Perrone stated in the community meeting that they need law enforcement cooperation and don’t know how else to do it. But asked the people standing in the room to call ACSO and ask them why they’re not cooperating. However, Perrone explained the issues are not with ACSO deputies in the field, its the administrators and the Sheriff.
“It was rather embarrassing that the Apache County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have a representative at this meeting. The Sheriff himself should have been in attendance for something of this magnitude. The citizens of Apache County need that assurance. They need to know that the Sheriff’s Office, and in fact, the Sheriff, is concerned enough to make a statement to the public and be available to answer questions about such serious events,” said Cope Reynolds, Vernon resident and Candidate for Apache County Sheriff.
Jesse Robinson, ACSO Public Relations, stated to Mountain Daily Star that ACSO deputies have responded to the fire incidents and are actively investigating all of them.
“We will continue to serve the citizens of Apache County to the best of our ability,” said Robinson.
Perrone said, “We want to partner with them more than anything else. That’s all we’re asking for is partnering, a partnership.”
Fire Marshall JD Pepper with Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District is handling the arson investigation for Vernon Fire District. He was asked to lend a hand to Vernon Fire District because they needed help.
“They weren’t getting much cooperation, said Pepper. So, Timber Mesa’s here to support our neighbor.”
Pepper explained that he has been in contact with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
“Here’s the profile. they’re all vacant, within 50 yards of a road. These people don’t want to get caught going up and down an end road,” said a Vernon resident.
A Vernon resident asked if the arson activity has a pattern, and Perrone replied that its between eight and ten days and in the afternoon.
Vernon Fire District Captain Petersen said,” Take pictures of license plates, anything you see as suspicious. Do not post the information on Facebook; get it to law enforcement or Vernon Fire. Also, don’t approach the suspects.
Community rumors have been circulating about a black truck with a Chinese flag on the back being a vehicle of interest. Perrone said, ” We don’t have a vehicle description as of yet and only listen to local official news.”
Vernon residents are a tight-knit community and rallied together at the meeting, voicing that they will all take care of each other and be vigilant for the community.
Perrone’s message to the Vernon residents: Be vigilant. You have to watch your neighbors, and you’re going to have to watch your neighborhoods. Whatever that looks like for each and every one of you, get together, talk to your neighbors.
We have a arsonist running around in our community setting fires to abandoned buildings and this is only the start, the next fire could be a home with people asleep, this person must be caught,” said a Vernon resident.
“I’m promising you we’re doing everything we can within our limits. We’re a small fire district with a small budget and limited personnel. That’s why we’re bringing in help. They’re doing the best that they can. We will continue on this until we have a final solution and we capture or arrest whoever is doing this and bring them to full prosecution,” said Perrone.
Perrone is asking for Vernon residents to attend the next Apache County Board of Supervisors meeting in St. Johns.
If you have a fire tip call ACSO at (928) 337-4321 option 6 or Vernon Fire District online or call (928) 537-4895.
If you suspect fire activity is happening or something seems out of place, please call 911.