Scaring and angering the community, Michael Austin McGrath set 10 known structure fires in Auburn between September 2015 and early January 2016, possibly more.
Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Judith H. Ramseyer sentenced the 22-year-old Auburn man to nine years in prison.
Weeks before his sentencing, McGrath had pleaded guilty to all 10 counts of first- and second-degree arson filed against him.
McGrath’s rap sheet includes past charges of second-degree burglary, possession of a stolen vehicle and assault and harassment, all of which were taken into account in his sentencing.
At the sentencing hearing were members of the the Auburn Police Department, McGrath’s family, and officials of the Valley Regional Fire Authority, among them Assistant Fire Marshall Josh Rogers.
“I was hoping the judge would have given him an exceptional sentence. He terrorized the whole city of Auburn for months and months, longer than we at first knew,” said Rogers, who was the lead fire investigator on the case.
Indeed, until the night of Oct. 4, 2015, when McGrath set four separate fires in a two-hour interval, the VRFA wasn’t aware it was dealing with a serial arsonist. Later it would discover that his activities had begun at least a month before.
As the fires continued and public frustration mounted, in November 2015, authorities met with the community in the gymnasium of Dick Scobee Elementary.
Police arrested McGrath on Jan. 14, 2016 in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the FBI, the VRFA and other agencies. Authorities brought him into custody hours after the reporting of two additional fires that had broken out within 15 minutes of each other on the city’s north-end.
Detectives later developed enough information to find probable cause to arrest McGrath’s 16-year-old cousin. Police said the cousin was involved in at least six intentionally-set fires, two of which targeted occupied homes.
The cousins worked together and separately on several of the fires, according to Auburn Police, who learned this information while trying to verify details obtained during McGrath’s arrest.
The cousin, a juvenile, received a suspended sentence, having pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree arson.