HELENA — A man who helped fight suspicious fires in the Helena area, even though he was not a member of the responding fire departments, was charged Thursday with setting a dozen fires.
Frederick James Maw V, 18, made an initial appearance Thursday in Lewis and Clark County Justice Court on 12 counts of arson. His bail was set at $100,000.
While deputies were investigating the fires, the sheriff’s office learned that Maw, in full firefighting gear, helped fight fires set Tuesday near Winston and Wednesday north of Helena, and that he was acting suspiciously.
Investigators found a butane torch, fuel cylinder and a trigger-operated lighter in his car Wednesday and recovered incriminating texts from his cellphone, court records said.
According to charging documents, Maw first claimed to be hiking in the Nelson area but eventually admitted to setting the fires north of Helena, near Winston in Broadwater County and at Priest Pass west of Helena on May 10. He agreed to take law enforcement officers back to the locations of each fire after he was arrested Wednesday.
Three fires were started on Priest Pass and nine were started Wednesday between Nelson and York, according to charging documents. The fires north of Helena had burned 430 acres by Thursday afternoon, the Helena National Forest said.
Maw also took officers to the spots where two fires were started in the Spokane Hills near Winston. The fires burned 55 acres. No charges have been filed in that case.
The Independent Record reports Maw briefly served as a member of an area volunteer fire department alongside his father, Frederick Maw IV.
East Valley Volunteer Fire Chief Dave Sammons says the younger Maw’s application was rejected over the winter when he re-applied to join the department.
Sammons said the department does background checks on all its applicants, and Maw’s raised no alarms.
“Nothing gave us any indication that it was something he would do,” he told the newspaper. “We’re still all in a state of shock.”
Maw is scheduled to enter a plea during his District Court arraignment scheduled for June 17.
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