What’s a young volunteer firefighter to do when there aren’t enough fires to keep you busy? Create your own.
A 19-year-old Hermiston man was arrested Sept. 19, 1979, on arson charges after being linked to a series of fires in the western Umatilla County town.
Timothy James Peck, a volunteer firefighter beginning July 22 of that year, became a suspect in a string of blazes after he showed up early for a number of fires. Police also received a tip about a suspect seen running from a fire on Sept. 7. Peck was arrested at the Hermiston Safety Center after voluntarily showing up to answer questions.
All the fires battled in Hermiston since the date Peck was made a volunteer firefighter came under scrutiny as to their cause, and Peck was indicted on eight counts of first-degree arson and one count of second-degree arson, including four homes, two mobile homes, a tent trailer, a barn on Canal Road and the Sherrell Chevrolet garage on Main Street. The final fire attributed to Peck, a mobile home next door to the one he shared with his father at the Punkin Center Mobile Home Park, was the result of increased police patrol activity in Hermiston that forced Peck to pick his targets closer to home. A couple of other fires of “suspicious origin,” including the suspected torching of Fire Chief John Shull’s pickup, were not attributed to Peck.
A Hermiston High School graduate, Peck had interests in music and dramatics and had worked at the Hermiston A&W Drive-In until the end of June 1979. He had a clean arrest record other than a few minor traffic violations prior to the arson charges.
Peck pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree arson on Jan. 9, 1980, and was sentenced Feb. 6 to 20-year prison terms for each count, to be served concurrently. As a condition of the possibility of parole after serving 10 years, Peck also was ordered to make payments of 15 percent of his net income as restitution for the $251,837 in damages caused by his fires, and an additional $15,071 for four other fires in which he was a suspect, but was not charged.