Woman accused of setting multiple neighborhood fires

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- A North Phoenix woman is facing multiple arson and reckless burning charges for allegedly setting fires around her neighborhood.

Rita Ann Hoffman, 54, was arrested on Sunday night at her home near 32nd Street and Thunderbird Road.

According to a report from investigators, she is accused of setting at least seven fires between Oct. 14 and Nov. 16. All of the fires were ignited in the front yards of homes during the evening hours or at night. The Phoenix Fire Dept. extinguished some of the fires. Other fires were put out by residents and some fires burned out on their own and the damage was discovered later.

Numerous fires were set in one yard where a plastic lawn chair, a garden hose, a masonry wall, a flower plot, plants, and other items were burned. Other residents reported similar incidents.

"When something occurs like that us as a Phoenix Fire Department we get really concerned because if something is continually happening in a short period of time it kind of sparks some questions in us because it's safety," Capt. Benjamin Santillan with the Phoenix Fire Dept. said. "These fires were set to people's belongings such as their trees and yard furniture and different dumpsters."

One resident's security system captured video of a woman apparently starting a fire in a trash pile.

Investigators used that video to find Hoffman and question her.

Hoffman told investigators that she was the woman in the video but that she did not start a fire. She also mentioned she set a fire on church property in Oregon in the past. Investigators learned Hoffman was convicted of arson in Portland, Oregon in 2010 and 2011.

On Nov. 16, while conducting undercover surveillance in the area, investigators said they saw Hoffman set her neighbor's bushes on fire.

An Investigator chased her to the backyard of her home. She refused to comply with an order to get on the ground so she was forced on to the pavement and handcuffed.

After being arrested, Hoffman admitted to setting the fires in her neighborhood but did not say why she did it.

"It's a win for the community because someone could have gotten hurt," said Capt. Santillan. "Luckily in the fires that she did set no one got hurt and that's what really concerned us in our investigations division when we do have arsonists is to catch those before someone does get hurt."

Investigators also learned Hoffman's maiden name is Bowers. Rita Bowers had three outstanding City of Phoenix Municipal Court misdemeanor arrest warrants for failure to appear on charges of indecent exposure, assault, and disorderly conduct.