November 18th, 2008
07:13 PM ET

Who starts fires for thrills?

Program note: California investigators are trying to track down a suspected arsonist who may have set one of the current wildfires burning. Watch Ted Rowlands' full report on how a community tracked down a serial arsonist; along with Ted's jailhouse interview with the man whose compulsion destroyed hundreds of homes and terrified thousands of people.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/US/10/23/california.fires.ap/art.california.fire.one.ap.jpg caption="Firefighters battle a wildfire that broke out early Thursday morning in the western part of Los Angeles, California. "]
Ted Rowlands
CNN Los Angeles Correspondent

Who starts fires for thrills? Wade Kirkwood does. We met Kirkwood in prison, where he's serving a nine year sentence in Washington State for setting 11 fires in 2004.

Kirkwood told us he's had the urge to set fires since he was a teenager, he says the rush he gets from setting a blaze is better than anything he's ever felt.

I understand on some level the motivations for a lot of different crimes, but arson has always been difficult for me to appreciate, until I met Wade Kirkwood.

There's no doubt in my mind that this guy, and I assume other arsonists, are wired differently. Wade Kirkwood loves everything about setting fires, he says he likes planning them, lighting them and watching them.

Kirkwood is clearly dealing with demons that most people will never face. He told us that he's getting help in prison, but admitted to us that he still gets excited seeing fire on the news.

About a week after the interview Kirkwood sent us a letter saying he'd like people to write to him with questions or comments.

Filed under: Ted Rowlands • Wildfires
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    If his motivation is genuine then perhaps he can help some others – if he only helps one person it would be at least a few fewer fires. I'm glad he is getting help in prison on a psychological level for this. I hope when he gets out he stays clean.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    November 18, 2008 at 9:47 pm |
  2. Dan from MN

    Kirkwood is a pyromaniac... just like the person responsible for the recent fires in CA.

    November 18, 2008 at 9:47 pm |
  3. GF, Los Angeles

    As someone who knows two people who lost their homes in Sylmar, I find Wade to be pathetic and all that mumbo jumbo about being wired differently is a bunch of BS. Does it excite him to see all these people crying after coming back to see there is nothing left of their house? Plain and simple he's a LOSER!

    November 18, 2008 at 9:38 pm |
  4. Xavier Black

    Wow, this is amazing to find out. I had no idea there were people amongst us this sick. When I say sick, I mean it literally. The sad thing about this is that arsonists don't get caught and prosecuted as often as (traditional)criminals. Their market is so vast and they can strike at any time. How do you defend against these types of people? They could just go into a forest and start a fire. Next thing you know hundreds and thousands of families are without a home. Just because they get a kick out of it. One thing is for sure, criminals are seduced by crimes they committ and get away with. This is gonna be an uphill battle, but I am sure we will eventually figure a way to combat this type of people. Too much is riding on it. I think the FBI should put this guy on the payroll. Maybe they could use his criminal mind to help in the fight against this hideous crime.

    November 18, 2008 at 8:34 pm |
  5. MC

    We helped some neighbors evacuate during several of these fires and nearly had to evac ourselves during once incident. Towards the end of the summer of 2004 it got so bad we would watch the horizon for the next column(s) of smoke on our way home from work. I will never forget the helicopters working on the Elk Heights fire, a giant bucket swinging underneath them in howling wind between the basalt walls of the Yakima river canyon... I turned to my husband and told him that someone was going to die if the fires kept going.

    It still makes me sick to think about the damage the fires caused and the risk and effort our firefighters took to beat them back, and it is a miracle that nobody got hurt or killed. 9 years in prison frankly doesn't seem like much given the scope of the crime.

    November 18, 2008 at 8:15 pm |