Teen accused of starting wildfires says he needed firefighting work to pay debts

Teen accused of starting wildfires says he needed firefighting work to pay debts

14 June 2013

published by www.billingsgazette.com

USA — The 18-year-old accused of setting a dozen wildfires in the Helena area last month told investigators he was trying to work as a firefighter because he needed the money, according to prosecutors.

An affidavit filed Monday in District Court in the case against Frederick James “Freddie” Maw, who briefly served last year with the East Valley Volunteer Fire Department, says Maw told investigators he was an “idiot”who didn’t think when he set the fires, and he did not want to burn any houses down.

The affidavit also says that “According to Maw, he wanted to start a fire in order to go to work as a firefighter in order to pay his mounting bills and debt.”

After lighting the York-area fires, “Maw told (a detective) he then ate his lunch up there while he was watching the fires to make sure they took off,” according to the affidavit.

He described the ignition of the fires as “hot sets” in dry grass where “conditions were perfect,” according to the affidavit.

Maw was arrested May 15 after allegedly setting nine fires in the York area. He is also charged with setting three fires near Priest Pass May 10 and was spotted at fires in the Spokane Hills in Broadwater County.

He appeared Thursday in District Court, where District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock said he could face up to 240 years in prison if convicted of all 12 arson counts.

The affidavit provides additional details about the investigation into the fires and Maw’s intentions.

According to prosecutors, authorities were notified about 1:15 p.m. May 15 about the multiple fires near York and Nelson in the Big Belt Mountains and were immediately suspicious about their origin.

The fires extended from “just up from the York Bar” all the way to Refrigerator Canyon, according to the affidavit. Some of the fires were just off the road.

A local volunteer fire chief meanwhile had reported to Lewis and Clark Sheriff Leo Dutton that Maw, whom he knew, was behaving strangely and had shown up at all three of the suspicious fire incidents, according to the report.

At 2:35 p.m., someone in a Montana Highway Patrol helicopter, which was looking for vehicles in the fire area, reported seeing a white truck in the area of El Dorado Flats.

When law enforcement officers contacted Maw in his white Chevrolet pickup, he was wearing full firefighting gear and had a fire shelter with him. He told the officers he was hiking in the area and working for a contract firefighting service in Dillon.

He told investigators he saw the fires and wanted to check on his grandparents’ house. He said he felt he could help with the firefighting effort, according to the affidavit.

The officers spotted containers in his truck with apparent fuel mixtures and a trigger-operated lighter.

Maw agreed to a search of his vehicle and mobile phone and went with the officers to the Law Enforcement Center in Helena for an interview. There, he said he had recently received a medical discharge from the Air Force a month into basic training and had been a cadet with the East Valley Volunteer Fire Department.

Maw’s father, also named Frederick Maw, is a firefighter with that department.

He told a detective he had shown up at the Spokane Hills fire and had so much fun fighting it, “being around friends and fighting fire, he decided to go up to York on May 15,” according to the affidavit.

At York, according to the affidavit, he said he stayed to fight one fire because it was close to a house.

He also told investigators he had driven up Priest Pass Road and felt “the area needed a fire” because it was so dry.

Sherlock set arraignment and bail hearing for Maw June 20.

He remains in Lewis and Clark County jail with bail at $100,000.

The U.S. Forest Service has estimated the costs of fighting the fires at more than $1 million.

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