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Troopers: Fire allegedly set over unpaid wages

Posted: July 26, 2012 - 9:02am  |  Updated: July 26, 2012 - 11:26am

The 54-year-old man who admitted starting a structure fire on purpose Monday told authorities he burned his former boss’s cabin because of unpaid wages, according to an affidavit filed by Alaska State Troopers. 

Willard Hutson was arrested and charged with first-degree arson after admitting to an on-scene trooper that he set fire to the Soldotna home. He also was arrested on an outstanding warrant. 

Upon arriving at the fire at 44684 Sunrise Ave., Trooper Eugene Hunter was speaking with fire officials when he noticed a man near the fire motioning him to come over. The man, who was later identified verbally and by an Oregon ID card as Hutson, informed the trooper — without being prompted — he set the fire, according to troopers. 

The cabin was unoccupied during the fire. 

Hutson also told the trooper the cabin belonged to his former boss Bryan Chapman, and he set the fire as payback for being cheated out of wages over the last two years and for Chapman firing him two days prior, according to troopers. 

The alleged arsonist agreed to answer troopers’ questions after being read his Miranda Rights, and he proceeded to detail his premeditated plans, which formed the same day his boss fired him. According to troopers, Hutson said he chose to burn the cabin while unoccupied. 

Hutson said he cut the fuel line on Chapman’s lawnmower, collected the leaking gas with rags and ripped up a cardboard box. He then used his black cigarette lighter to ignite a small propane torch and started the fire, according to troopers. 

Troopers found a torch matching Hutson’s description lying near Sunrise Avenue with burn marks, soot and a crack in its side where the gas burst out, they reported. Hutson said he heard a small explosion while the cabin was burning. 

Hutson estimated the cabin was worth about $25,000, roughly the amount he believed his former boss owed him. Trooper Hunter asked Hutson if he felt his action was fair; he said it was, troopers reported. 

On July 1, the Kenai Peninsula Borough valued the property at $39,100.

The two-story cabin was a total loss. 

Hunter contacted the homeowner. During the fire, Chapman was fishing. He informed troopers that Hutson had called a friend and admitted starting the fire. The friend, in turn, called Chapman, troopers reported.  

Attempts to contact Chapman on Wednesday were unsuccessful. 

Hutson remains in custody at Wildwood Correctional Center. No bail has been set, and the court granted him counsel. He entered a plea of not guilty, according to court records. 

A preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 3 at the Kenai Courthouse.

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