U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Arson attack forces California TV station KGET TV 17 to take the news off-air

Incident Details

March 21, 2021

An arson attack forced the KGET TV 17 news team in Bakersfield, California, to take its 11 p.m. newscast off the air and evacuate the building, on March 21, 2021.

A KGET journalist reported on the attack as it happened saying there was “a scary and bizarre scene, right beneath our studio.” There was “a car bursting into flames as wooden crosses lined our back parking lot,” he added.

The fire was close to the TV station and a car was found on fire outside the parking lot gates of the KGET building on L Street. The sounds of explosions were reported to the police department, which sent its bomb squad.

A KGET website report said there was “an intense fire, with flames shooting as high as 20 feet into the air.”

Thirteen wooden crosses about 5 to 7 ft tall had been left outside the gates, close to the fire. Two of them were draped with what appeared to be wedding dresses, a third with a man’s suit jacket, KGET reported.

Michael Trihey, news director at KGET, the NBC affiliate in Bakersfield and Kern County, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: “It happened during the 11 o'clock newscast on a weekend. We have a roof camera that we use for city views and things of that nature. And we can see on that roof camera, a fire adjacent to the building, which perhaps threatens the building.”

Trihey said the police advised KGET staff to evacuate the building, forcing them to cut the newscast short by 15 minutes.

“Responding officers heard several loud explosions when arriving, which was later determined to be associated with the combustion of normal vehicle equipment (no explosive or incendiary device) was located,” said Bakersfield Police Department spokesman Sgt. Robert Pair. “There was no damage to the studio building. I can confirm the existence of white crosses, a wedding dress and suit jacket.”

A woman was arrested for charges associated with arson after she turned herself in at the Kern County Jail, according to the police. She pleaded not guilty to two charges in connection with the fire, possession of material or device used for arson and burning of combustible material in an unsafe manner when she appeared in a Bakersfield court in April, KGET reported.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].