In 1984, Ronald Reagan said people live on the street by choice. The Reagan Administration cut the budget of the National Institute of Mental Health, curtailing funding for research and the training of clinicians, and cut or eliminated mental health services. Many of those services are still not available.
Recently, a situation in Salt Lake City brought the issue of how one person’s mental health can affect a community. Utah, along with many states, is experiencing one of the most dangerous wildfire seasons on record. By mid-July, the state had seen 473 fires caused by humans – four times the number caused by lightening.
Over the last seven years, Wilbert Fike, Jr., age 53, in the hope of returning to prison, has set fires in City Creek Canyon, Memory Grove, and near the State Capitol. These areas just west of the Avenues. A fire would threaten hundreds of homes.
One of the oldest areas of the city, the Avenues are filled with charming older homes, a sprinkling of mid-century houses and apartments, and high-priced new construction at its uppermost fringe. First surveyed in 1850, the area is surrounded on three sides by tinder-dry brush and grasses, making residents aware of how little it would take to ignite a catastrophe.
In 2006, Fike started three fires in the area in one day and spent a year in prison. He did it again in July 2010 and served jail time. In July 2011, he set another fire within one month of his release. On July 5, 2012, he started another fire in the area, went to the police and told them he set it.
Alert neighbors and quick action by SLC Fire have stopped the fires from getting out of control, but with damage at a minimum, Fike could not be charged with felony arson. However, the last fire burned over a half an acre, and was expensive enough (more than $1500) for third degree felony charges. Fike could serve up to five years in prison and face up to a $5,000 fine.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says he would “love to comply with his (Fike’s) wishes, but I don’t write the law.” The charge of arson cannot be enhanced for repeat offenders. Gill believes there are more services available in prison and maybe Fike will get the help he needs.
On July 25, Fike told a Third District Court judge he wanted to waive all of his rights and admit his guilt. This was not due process and Fike was ordered to reappear in court on August 6. Will he get the help he so obviously needs? Or will Wilbert Fike and others like him continue to be forced to live without services.
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Source: MIWatch.org, Utahfireinfo.gov, Greater Avenues Community Council, Salt Lake Tribune, Associated Press, Utah State Courts, FOX13 News