Search for serial arsonist personal for Spokane County fire chief

Search for serial arsonist personal for Spokane County fire chief

The investigation into a string of fires across Spokane County is bringing up painful memories for a Spokane County assistant fire chief with ties to a notorious serial arsonist in Southern California.

John Orr was a captain and arson investigator in the Glendale Fire Department who was convicted of setting 2,000 fires in California in the 1980s and early 1990s. In one of those fires four people including a small child were killed. He’s now serving a life sentence for setting those fires.

One of his co-workers is Greg Godfrey, who is now an assistant chief of Spokane County Fire District #8, and he’s taking the search for the person responsible for setting these fires personally before someone gets hurt.

“The fire department is a family, we’re a very tight knit group of individuals we have to trust each other,” Godfrey said. “He betrayed that. He put our people in jeopardy.”

In the fire community the name John Orr doesn’t sit well for most.

“He’s considered to be one of the most prolific arsonists in the history of the United States,”

Godfrey remembers having his morning cup of coffee with Orr not knowing he was the one actually setting those fires.

he beginning, we all thought he was a hero. He was like the best arson investigator in the world,” Godfrey said.

Before coming to the inland northwest two years ago Godfrey had been with the Pasadena Fire Department since 1982. During that period Orr set nearly 2,000 fires in the Los Angeles area.

“We had an unusual number of fires that first part of my career,” Godfrey said.

Orr used a signature device made out of a cigarette, matches, rubber band and paper and set the fires in poly-foam materials usually in buildings that were busy with people. The most destructive fire took four lives in a hardware store in October 1984.

“I was on Engine 27 with the City of Glendale at the time and we responded as a strike team to assist with that fire,” Godfrey remembered.

Godfrey recalls when Orr was arrested in 1992 and how shocking it was to find his fellow firefighter was responsible for such devastation.

“Betrayal. Oh yeah, betrayal. We were upset. All of us were upset,” he said.

Godfrey says that’s why he’s taking these incidents here in Spokane personally. He doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt like he did 20 years ago.

“We’ve been lucky. We’ve had small fires and one that started to get big, but we’ve been extremely lucky,” he said.

Godfrey says that the images of the fire in Pasadena that took those four innocent lives sticks with him and hopes it’s something he or any other firefighter never has to see here in Spokane.