A fire allegedly set by a former volunteer firefighter threatened homes in Stockton and destroyed the town’s main water tank in July, causing some residents to be evacuated and to subsist on bottled water for days.
On July 16, firefighters responded to a report of a wildfire on the east bench of town. A hundred firefighters from six local agencies — the Bureau of Land Management, North Tooele County Fire District, Rush Valley Fire Department, Stockton Volunteer Fire Department, Tooele Army Depot Fire Department and the Tooele City Fire Department — responded to the blaze, which spread quickly in grass and sagebrush dried by the summer’s heat and further fueled by high winds.
Several homes were threatened to the point their residents had to be evacuated. Some structures sustained smoke and heat damage, but none were destroyed. The town’s century-old 500,000-gallon water tank, however, was irreparably damaged from the 179-acre fire.
Its water supply was initially contaminated, causing a no-use order to be implemented. Four days later, officials had decontaminated the water to the point where it was safe for consumption, and a little over two weeks later residents were allowed to use limited amounts of water for their lawn on a rotating schedule.
Investigators arrested 28-year-old Timothy D. West, a former volunteer firefighter for the town’s fire department, whom they said set the fire intentionally and then reported it himself. West’s father and brother, Don West and Don West Jr., have previously served as chiefs of the town’s fire department.
On July 20, Timothy West was charged with arson of the property of another, a second-degree felony; causing a catastrophe, a second-degree felony; and reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.
West had been convicted of two previous arson cases. In March 2010, he was arrested for starting a dumpster fire behind the Tooele County Health Department. He was charged with arson of the property of another, a third-degree felony; tampering with a witness, a third-degree felony; and arson of the property of another, a class A misdemeanor.
He pleaded guilty in May of that year to both arson charges, though the felony was reduced to a class A misdemeanor, and the tampering charge was dismissed, according to court records. He was sentenced in July 2010 to two one-year jail terms, both of which were suspended, and two years of probation, which were successfully closed out in July 2012, according to court records.
In May 2011, West was charged with two counts of arson of the property of another, a class B misdemeanor, for a September 2009 incident in which, while working as a security guard at Rio Tinto, he lit pieces of paper on fire. The flaming pieces of paper caused a garbage can to catch on fire, which then spread to a nearby field.
In June 2011, West pleaded guilty to one count of arson, with the other count being dismissed, and was sentenced to a suspended term of six months in jail and one year of probation.
The damage to Stockton’s water tank had larger repercussions than dry lawns and thirsty plants. Its damage was such that it would either require several hundred-thousand dollars of repair or a complete replacement. Town officials were unsure of how much of the cost of either operation would be covered by the insurance payout.
In August, after reviewing engineering reports about the damage sustained by the water tank, the Stockton Town Council unanimously voted to demolish the old tank and build a new one, rather than try to repair and bring the damaged tank up to code.
Stockton Mayor Mark Whitney said Tuesday the old tank was demolished in early December, and the town had purchased additional property near the town’s upper water tank for construction on the new tank.
The new 500,000-gallon tank, which is currently underway, is expected to be completed by April, and its cost will be more fully covered by insurance money than the council previously expected, he said.
“Knock on wood, it looks like most of it, about all of it will be covered by insurance. We got more than coal in our stocking,” he said. “The new tank is coming along and it’s looking good.”
West, who has been in the Tooele County Detention Center since his arrest, has undergone a series of evaluations to determine if he is competent to stand trial. He will next appear in 3rd District Court in January.