Weekend fire ruled arson, four in custodyA weekend fire of “suspicious origin” has resulted in the apprehension of four juveniles. “We are treating it as arson,” stated Cloquet Area Fire District (CAFD) Battalion Chief Gordy Meagher.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
A weekend fire of “suspicious origin” has resulted in the apprehension of four juveniles.
“We are treating it as arson,” stated Cloquet Area Fire District (CAFD) Battalion Chief Gordy Meagher.
Meanwhile, Assistant Carlton County Attorney Michael Boese confirmed Monday that four juveniles suspected of being involved in the incident, two of them age 15, one 16 and one 17, are being held at the Arrowhead Juvenile Center. All four appeared in Carlton County Court for detention hearings on Tuesday before Judge Dale Wolf. One of the 15-year-olds is being charged with second degree arson and the rest are being charged with aiding and abetting first degree arson. In addition, all of them face felony charges of second degree burglary and first degree criminal damage to property.
The four were apprehended after CAFD units responded to the 3200 block of Maple Drive west of Cloquet at 5:54 p.m. Sunday afternoon following the report of a structure fire. Upon arrival, crews found heavy smoke and fire coming from the side of the single story residence.
Crews gained access through the front door and the fire was quickly knocked down. Meagher said the room of origin – the upstairs bedroom – was heavily damaged, but for the most part the fire was contained to that area. The rest of the house suffered minor smoke damage, and the building was ventilated. The homeowner was away at the time of the fire.
The CAFD Fire Investigation Team was subsequently sent to the scene following the fire, though Meagher said Fond du Lac Law Enforcement, along with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Department, are taking the lead in the investigation.
According to Fond du Lac Police Chief Sam Ojibway, a witness reported seeing four juveniles known to him in the vicinity of the house at the time the fire was discovered and believed their behavior to be suspicious.
“There is no way they couldn’t have noticed the house was on fire,” said Ojibway.
Ojibway said investigators discovered that the inside of the house had been trashed prior to the fire. According to reports filed in the incident, the television in the living room had been flipped over onto a coffee table, a trunk and entertainment center had been ransacked, file cabinets were open and their contents were lying loose, and it appeared the house had been burglarized. All of the sinks had been plugged and the water was discovered to be running over onto the floor when firefighters arrived on the scene. Cupboards in the kitchen were open and food had been thrown around the room, including a container of cornmeal or flour that was spilled all over the floor. When authorities later located and questioned the juveniles, Ojibway said it was discovered they had traces of the same white substance on their shoes and clothing. Footprints were also found at the scene that later matched up with shoes worn by some of the suspects.
Ojibway said investigators also discovered that magazines and newspapers had been set on fire in the closet of the upstairs bedroom where the fire had originated. According to the statements taken in the investigation, one of the suspects told officers that the fire was started with charcoal lighter fluid by one of the group. The suspect said the fire was set to cover up the fact the house had been broken into and vandalized.
All four of the juveniles are slated for initial juvenile court hearings March 26 at 1:15 p.m.
Boese said though the younger two qualify only for probation as juveniles, his intent is to file for extended juvenile jurisdiction (EJJ) sentencing for the older two, which will involve hearings to determine whether the juveniles are eligible for an extended level of sentencing in which both adult and juvenile sentences may be imposed.
He explained that while both the 16- and 17-year-olds have a number of prior offenses, none are felonies. As such, there’s not enough on their records to certify them as adults, though both arson and burglary are imprisonable offenses when committed by adults.
Boese said EJJ sentencing would make to possible to extend probation until the age of 25, allowing a greater time period for rehabilitation. If the juveniles commit subsequent offenses in the meantime, Boese said the adult sentencing may then be imposed.
At this point, there is no dollar estimate for the damage caused by Sunday’s fire and vandalism. The homeowner was notified of the incident, and she informed authorities she had been living elsewhere because the house had been broken into several times previously.
Meagher said the fire is the sixth one the CAFD has responded to in the last three months, including another house fire on Mar. 11 and a dryer fire on Mar. 13.
“We’ve gotten a little bit busy lately,” Meagher commented.