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Animal abuse charges possible in Phoenix arson case

I’ve seen lots of news stories about burned animals in the Almeda fire. I’m wondering, is there a reason why the prosecutors haven’t charged the arson suspect with animal abuse?

— No name given

Your concern is shared by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which submitted an open letter Wednesday to Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz, the lead prosecutor in the arson case against suspect Michael Jarrod Bakkela.

PETA’s letter argues that “cruelty to animals charges must not be lost in this fire.”

“Animal remains have been found in the debris of the Almeda fire, and veterinary clinics have reported treating cats for painful burns as well as for possible respiratory damage and neurological problems,” PETA member Sarah Deffinger wrote.

Markiewicz said the criminal investigation into the fire has only begun; however, Bakkela isn’t charged with causing the entire Almeda fire — only a portion of it in Phoenix.

The fire Bakkela allegedly started came about six hours after the Almeda fire began in Ashland. That fire’s cause is still under investigation.

Prosecutors allege that shortly after 5 p.m. Sept. 8, Bakkela set a fire in Phoenix near the 200 block of Hoyt Lane that rapidly spread west of the railroad tracks and north of Dano Way. The fire caused extensive damage to 15 properties, including 11 manufactured homes in the 200 and 300 blocks of Hoyt Lane as well as homes on Voorhies Road.

Markiewicz said detectives and forensic investigators haven’t had a chance to sift through those properties or recover remains of animals that may have perished.

“Detectives are still investigating the damages sustained during this fire,” Markiewicz said, adding that the DA’s office “will consider any other charges that are appropriate” as they gather more evidence.

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