A man arrested for setting at least five fires in vacant west Medford houses was seen videotaping flames at some of the scenes and posted some of them on the Internet, arousing police suspicion last summer, authorities said.
Medford police investigators even brought the suspect, Manoah Martin Hall, 38, in for questioning on the arsons last summer, but their talk at the time "was not very fruitful," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said.
Alleged arsons for which Manoah Hall will be charged, along with incident dates:
View this story online to see a map of additional arsons Medford police believe Hall may be connected to, though he is being charged with only the above five incidents.
"He remained on our radar, but we didn't have enough to arrest him," Budreau said.
Forensic evidence collected from at least one of the arson sites later pointed to Hall, leading to a search Wednesday of his residence in the 100 block of North Mountain Avenue in Ashland, Budreau said.
Investigators are looking at more than a dozen other fires that could end up being tied to Hall, and they have no other suspects in the cases, police say.
"We think they're most likely related to him, but that's not enough to charge," Budreau said of the other fires. "We believe that most likely he is involved."
Hall was taken into custody without incident Wednesday in Ashland on three counts of first-degree arson, four counts of second-degree arson, four counts of criminal mischief and charges of possession, manufacture and delivery of methamphetamine.
One of the arson charges alleges that the fire threatened someone's life, ratcheting it up to a Measure 11 crime with a minimum sentence of 71/2; years upon conviction.
Hall was arraigned on the charges Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court and remains in the Jackson County Jail on more than $1 million bail. Family members were present at the hearing but declined to comment. His next court hearing is March 13.
From summer 2011 through 2013, local and federal officials have investigated 22 suspicious fires in vacant houses, mostly in southwest Medford, with damage running from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, police said.
Medford police Chief Tim George said it's likely that additional houses would be added to the list.
"I'm convinced, and so are the other investigators in this case, that there are probably other vacant residences or foreclosed residences or other protected property (where) there was an attempt to light a fire — or a small fire smoldered and went out — that is still undetected," George said. "If those property owners or landlords or property managers discover that, they're going to want to contact us."
The first confirmed arson in the string of west Medford incidents was reported on Aug. 25, 2011, at 1479 Orchard Home Drive. Additional arsons were reported on Maple Park Drive, West 11th Street, West Ninth Street, Thomas Road, Edgemont Street, West Jackson Street, West Main Street, Columbus Avenue, Ross Lane, Stewart Avenue, West Fourth Street, Prune Street, Chestnut Street and South Peach Street.
Hall lived in several west Medford residences while allegedly setting the house fires, which struck fear in the community, said Jackson County prosecutor Nick Geil.
"I think he's obviously placed fear in people's minds that you have someone out there that's starting house fires," Geil said.
George said it was not unusual for homeless people to sleep in vacant houses like the ones Hall allegedly torched, adding Hall was "lucky" that his alleged actions didn't turn into a homicide case.
Hall posted Internet videos of some of the fires that showed flames even before firefighters reached the scene, George said. Firefighters responding to some of the early blazes recalled seeing Hall among the bystanders, George said.
As investigators grew more interested in Hall as a suspect, they discovered that he posted videos of some of the fires online, along with apparently random footage of trains and fire trucks.
"One of the first YouTube postings that we viewed was actually one of the first fires that had shown up on the map," said Detective Jim Williams. "It was a barn fire, and the YouTube posting basically just showed the fire in progress prior to (firefighters) even showing up. It kind of just documented verbally what was happening at the time."
That particular video has been taken off YouTube, Williams added, but others remain.
"A lot of them are still out there," Williams said.
Investigators put Hall under surveillance after they initially questioned him, George said.
"Since summer, all arrows pointed to him, and they continue to point to him," George said.
But it was analysis of forensic evidence in recent weeks that "put us over the edge" and led to Wednesday's arrest, Budreau said.
George said he won't discuss what types of forensic evidence police collected in the case or what motive might be behind the crimes.
Hall has a history of methamphetamine and theft convictions in Jackson County dating back to 2006, state court records show.