Sunday, 19 May 2024

Authorities arrest suspected serial arsonist

Norman Henderson of Clearlake is facing 10 felony arson counts for allegedly setting fires in Clearlake and Bartlett Springs. Lake County Jail photo.



LAKE COUNTY – A man who fire investigators allege set numerous fires in the last year, primarily in the Bartlett Springs area, has been arrested.

Norman Ralph Henderson, 61, of Clearlake was arrested Friday afternoon for allegedly setting a string of arson fires between April 25, 2007, and this past April 10, according to Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.

Henderson is being charged with 10 counts of arson, Hinchcliff said. Lake County Sheriff's Investigator Corey Paulich, and Lake County Arson Task Force Investigators Brice Trask and Chris Vallerga made the arrest Friday afternoon.

The felony charges, according to Hinchcliff, allege that Henderson intentionally set 10 fires in the year-long time period, including two recreational vehicles in the city of Clearlake, and eight fires along Bartlett Springs Road between Lucerne and Indian Valley Reservoir.

The fires officials are charging Henderson with setting in the Bartlett Springs Road area include two vacation residences that were a total loss, three structures in the Bartlet Springs Resort area including the Bartlett Springs water bottling facility, a cabin owned by the Yolo County Flood Control District and two wildland/brush fires.

The old Bartlett Springs Resort lodge, which resort caretaker Zane Gray had rebuilt in 1989, was the first of the buildings to be burned last year, said Northshore Fire Chief Jim Robbins. That building, as Lake County News reported, burned July 28.

The next building was a transfer station that the old Vittel bottling company had use to fill trucks, said Robbins.


Then, on Sept. 11, 2007, the Bartlett Springs gazebo, which Gray also had restored, was set ablaze. At the time, county officials had been looking at trying to move the gazebo down to the site of the future Ely Stage Stop Museum.



The historic Bartlett Springs Resort gazebo, restored in 1985 by caretaker Zane Gray, pictured on May 6, 2007. The gazebo was destroyed in a fire on Sept. 11, 2007. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


Robbins said it angered him that firefighters had saved the structures in the 1996 Fork Fire, only to have them so senselessly destroyed.

The most recent fire, which took place April 10, was a privately owned cabin, said Robbins.

Arson investigators were having a hard time pinning down leads, especially because the Bartlett Springs area is so remote, said Robbins.

While they had received some vehicle descriptions and made tentative vehicle stops on people coming down the hill, they were frustrated in their attempts to make any definite connections to the case, said Robbins, adding that anyone in the area would have a 17-mile head start on first responders.

It was an incident in another county that helped break the case, said Robbins.

Henderson came to the attention of local fire investigators after he was arrested in Colusa County late last month for setting ablaze a roadside fruit and vegetable stand near Williams, as Lake County News has reported.

Colusa County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Erdelt told Lake County News that Henderson admitted to being a convicted arsonist in cases that took place in Nevada. The Woodland Daily Democrat also reported that Henderson had been convicted of arson in Butte County about 40 years ago.

Robbins said Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert had a hunch about Henderson after he was questioned by Colusa County officials about the fruit stand fire.

Gilbert called Robbins the next day and said, “We may have your guy,” Robbins recalled.

The Lake County Arson Task Force – a group of qualified arson investigators from area fire districts, the sheriff's office and district attorney's office – picked up the case from there, said Robbins.

Robbins said he was grateful to the arson task force and the sheriff's office for their hard work to crack the case.

He said the arrest will help the residents and landowners in the Bartlett Springs area feel more at ease after a year of fearing for their homes and property.

Robbins estimated that the last time they had a serial arsonist on the Northshore was in the 1980s, and the man – who was convicted of setting a series of grass fires – went to prison for a long time.

“It's hard to get 'em, but once you get them they admit to it, because they're pretty proud of what they're doing,” said Robbins.


Arson Task Force member Brice Trask, who also is a station caption with Lake County Fire Protection District, said many of the local strike team members that worked on the Fork Fire in 1996 are now on the task force.

After having worked so hard to save the buildings, Trask said it meant a lot to the Arson Task Force to catch the arsonist responsible for taking out most of what remained of the historical resort.

“It's kind of ironic that we come back and catch the guy that burned it down,” Trask said. 

Henderson is in custody of the Lake County Jail in Lakeport, with bail set at $100,000.

Hinchcliff said Henderson is scheduled to be arraigned on the arson charges early next week.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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