USA — Cass Lake Minn. — A Cass Lake teenager who started one of two northern Minnesota forest fires last May because mosquitoes were bothering him has been sentenced to a treatment program and ordered to pay $161,000 in restitution for the costs involved with the fire.
Anthony James Wittner, 18, who was a juvenile at the time, had previously entered pleas of guilty to the felony offense of wildfire arson and misdemeanor offense of fleeing a police officer on foot, the Cass County Attorney’s office reported.
Wittner pleaded guilty to starting two fires near Cass Lake last May 28. The fires burned out of control damaging 50 acres of forest and endangering homes. Residents of 10 homes were evacuated while crews from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources together with local volunteer firefighters worked to contain and suppress the fire.
Wittner was sentenced Tuesday in Cass County District Court to complete a 28-day program at the Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center to help gain insight into the gravity and nature of his offense, according to a release from the Cass County Attorneys Office. Wittner was credited with 14 days previously served. He must also pay $123,197.68 in restitution to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for fire suppression costs and $37,906 to Potlatch Corporation for loss of timber due to the fires.
If Wittner violates conditions of probation, his juvenile sentence may be revoked and he would be certified into adult court for further proceedings.
The day of the fires last May, a Cass County deputy walked about 100 yards into the woods near the fires along Highway 371 about 20 miles southeast of Bemidji to an abandoned railroad bed, where he encountered Wittner. The deputy identified himself and ordered the boy to exit the woods and raise his hands, the charges said. The boy fled from the deputy, who gave chase and apprehended him a short time later.
Wittner, 17 at the time, initially denied any involvement with lighting the fire and implicated another person. However, after investigating, Cass County law enforcement ruled out the other person as a suspect and re-interviewed Wittner, who admitted starting the second fire because mosquitos were bothering him.