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Firefighters charged with using arson to get work

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Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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PHOENIX (AP) -- Four firefighters have been arrested on suspicion of igniting between 15 and 20 fires in western Arizona so they could get paid for fighting them, officials said Tuesday.

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Authorities also charged two men suspected of setting fires to get money from the firefighters, and were seeking arrest warrants for two former firefighters who have moved out of state.

The firefighters worked at the fire district in Ehrenberg, a town of about 1,200 people and about 140 miles west of Phoenix on the Arizona-California line. They got $10 an hour per fire.

The six men arrested are suspected of igniting at least 15 fires in abandoned trailer homes, on open land and in expensive haystacks owned by farmers between January 2006 and last week, La Paz County sheriff's Lt. Glenn Gilbert said.

No one was hurt in the fires, the most costly of which destroyed a $200,000 haystack. Gilbert said the firefighters admitted to starting the blazes to make money and targeted haystacks because those types of fires can last for days.

Gilbert said the blazes were set with liter glass bottles of gasoline and lit rags.

The six men arrested Monday, all between the ages of 19 and 25, had their first court appearance Tuesday. They did not yet have lawyers.

All six face felony charges including arson, conspiracy to commit arson, fraudulent schemes, burning of wildlands and criminal damage. Gilbert said they face at least a decade in prison if convicted.

The arrests reduce the Ehrenberg Fire District's staff by a third. Gilbert said the district now has eight firefighters, including the captain in charge.

"They've got a lot of recovering to do from this," Gilbert said.

A message left at the district Tuesday was not returned.

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