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Accused serial arsonist seen videotaping the flames, police say

 Posted: 11:35 AM March 06, 2014

An alleged serial arsonist accused of setting at least five fires in empty West Medford homes was seen videotaping flames at some of the fires and posted some of them on the Internet, arousing police suspicion since last summer, authorities said.

Medford police investigators even brought Manoah Martin Hall, 38, in for questioning on the arsons last summer, but their talk at the time "was not very fruitful," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau says.

"He remained on our radar but we didn't have enough to arrest him," Budreau says.

But investigators stayed on Hall's tail until forensic evidence collected from at least one of the arson sites pointed to Hall, leading to the search of his Ashland residence Wednesday and his arrest, Budreau says.

Investigators still are looking at more than a dozen other similar fires that could end up tied to Hall, and they have no other suspects in the cases, police say.

Hall was taken into custody without incident Wednesday in Ashland on three counts of first-degree arson, four counts of second-degree arson, four counts of criminal mischief and charges of possession, manufacture and delivery of methamphetamine.

One of the arson charges alleges that the fire threatened someone's life, ratcheting it up to a Measure 11 crime with a minimum sentencing of 71/2 years upon conviction under Oregon sentencing guidelines.

He was lodged in the Jackson County Jail on more than $2 million bail.

From summer 2011 through 2013, local and federal officials have investigated 21 suspicious arsons in vacant homes, mostly in southwest Medford, with damages running from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, police said.

Hall lived in several West Medford residences while allegedly setting the house fires that prosecutors say struck fear in the community.

Medford police Chief Tim George says it was not unusual for homeless people to flop in vacant houses like the ones Hall torched, saying Hall was "lucky" that his alleged arsons didn't turn into a homicide case.

Hall allegedly posted Internet videos of some of the fires, showing flames even before firefighters reached the scene, George says. Firefighters responding to the blazes recalled seeing Hall among the bystanders at some of the early arsons, George says.

As investigators grew more interested in Hall as a suspect, they discovered that he posted videos of some of the fires online as well as apparently random footage of trains and fire trucks, George says.

Investigators put Hall under surveillance and were not deterred by that initial questioning attempt, George says.

"Since summer, all arrows pointed to him and they continue to point to him," George says.

But it was analysis of forensic evidence in recent weeks that "put us over the edge" and led to Wednesday's arrest, Budreau says.

George says he won't discuss what types of forensic evidence was collected in the case or what motive might be behind the alleged crimes.

Hall has a history of methamphetamine and theft convictions in Jackson County dating back to 2006, state court records show.

— Mark Freeman

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