The former fire chief of Babbitt, Minn., has been indicted by federal prosecutors with setting fires in the Superior National Forest and attempting to set a fire at a local resort, all while he was chief, the Star Tribune reports.
Ryan Scharber resigned as fire chief last December amidst a federal investigation, city attorney Mitch Brunfelt said.
“It certainly came as a shock when officials became aware of the investigation, and it continues to be a shock today,” Brunfelt said.
Scharber is charged with two counts of setting fires in the Superior National Forest on Oct. 7-9 and Oct. 11 in 2011 and on April 29 and Sept. 10 in 2012, according to federal charges made public Tuesday.
The ex-fire chief is also charged with one count of attempted arson at Mattila’s Birch Lake Resort in Babbitt on or about Dec. 3, 2011.
“It’s a sad day,” Bernice Norregaard, mayor of Iron Range said. “People were commenting that there seemed to be a lot of fires. No one wanted to be thinking that someone would be starting them.”
Scharber joined the volunteer Babbitt Fire Department in August 2005 and was appointed fire chief by the City Council in January 2008 after firefighters voted to recommend him.
The allegations of attempted arson at the fishing resort come from an incident reported by its owner, Don Mattila, in December 2011. Mattila said in an interview that one night he found a vehicle with Fire Department license plates parked near his garage. He saw Scharber walk out from behind the garage.
“He said he wanted to take a leak,” Mattila said. “He told me he was the fire chief.” Scharber left in his car, leaving Mattila suspicious. Afterwards he called 911. The resort owner smelled the odor of gasoline and found a gas can with a sprout on it behind a tree.
Scharber is not in custody, according to his attorney, Minneapolis attorney, Joe Tamburino.
Sources: Star Tribune, Associated Press