WILLITS, 12/26/19 — A woman was arrested on the morning of Christmas Eve for allegedly starting a series of fires small fires around Willits. Michele Lea Gray, 47 of Lucerne, was arrested by the Willits Police Department (WPD) for three counts of arson.
According to Little Lake Fire Chief Chris Wilkes the department began responding to calls early on Dec. 24, first to the Sherwood Valley Casino, where two small trashcan fires had been started, one in the women’s restroom and the other in another trash receptacle. Wilkes did not call for additional firefighters and the three duty officers handled the spate of small blazes — all fires were contained to the container they were burning in.
Next a fire was lit in an outside trashcan at Howard Memorial Hospital, and later a fire was discovered burning in a dumpster next to Beachtel Grove Middle School — though Wilkes believes the dumpster fire may have been set first and only noticed later. The calls all came within about 40 minutes of each other.
According to a press release from the WPD the “great work of the community members of Willits” led police to the 300 block of Creekside Drive in Willits where Gray was apprehend. She was booked that same morning into Mendocino County Jail in lieu of $100,000 in bail.
Chief Wilkes noted of the small fires, that though they were quickly dispatched with, such fires can indeed be very dangerous, noting that, “little fires like that get big if they’re in the right spot.” He added that though there are some health hazards associated with dumpster fires in particular, the firefighters wear protective gear. As to the small fires in the Wilkes said that they were small enough that they could have been handled by an ABC extinguisher.
He added, “Luckily they got caught and got taken care of…but if they had been somewhere where it catches something else on fire, well, now you’ve got yourself a pretty serious incident.”
Here is the press release from the WPD with some additional info: