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Emigrant Lake arson suspect arrested

Police arrested a man Tuesday for allegedly setting a minivan on fire Sept. 8, the day of the Almeda fire, near Emigrant Lake.

Vance Phuc Nguyen, 45, remained in the Jackson County Jail Wednesday without bail on a charge of first-degree arson and a parole violation, according to jail records.

Police said they are investigating whether Nguyen could have set the Almeda fire.

“He has to be considered until he can be ruled out,” said Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara. “So the investigation into him will continue as much as is possible.”

Crews from the Greensprings Rural Fire District had been en route to help with the Almeda fire Sept. 8 when they received a report of a vehicle fire on Highway 66 near milepost 5.5, according to a probable cause affidavit from Medford police. A propane tank was on top of the vehicle, the affidavit said.

“It was a fully involved vehicle, flames probably about 10 feet,” said Greensprings Rural Fire Chief Gene Davies. “Pretty hot fire, extremely windy.”

Crews extinguished the flames in about eight minutes, Davies said, and were able to prevent it from spreading to nearby vegetation. Four residential properties were between 220 and 440 yards from the fire, the affidavit said.

“This could have ignited a pretty good-sized wildland fire very quickly,” Davies said.

Nguyen remained on scene for treatment of burns on his right arm. The affidavit noted he was “agitated, and appeared to be under the influence of an intoxicant,” although additional details were not available.

An emergency medical technician who treated Nguyen at the scene for burns said Nguyen “admitted to setting the fire to his vehicle because he couldn’t deal with the responsibility of owning the vehicle,” the affidavit said.

Nguyen told investigators he had set the vehicle on fire with a gallon of gasoline and lit it with a cigarette, the affidavit said, and a melted plastic gas can was found near the rear passenger door.

Nguyen was transported to the hospital for treatment and put on a medical hold, Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. He was released shortly afterward, and he was arrested Tuesday.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.

Vance Phuc Nguyen faces a first-degree arson charge accusing him of setting fire to a vehicle the same day as the Almeda fire. Jackson County Jail booking photo.