A 17-year-old boy from northern Minnesota who allegedly set a fire because mosquitoes were bugging him is charged with a felony count of arson.
Anthony James Wittner, of rural Cass Lake, Minn., appeared in Cass County District Court on Friday on the charge of wildlife arson after two blazes that burned out of control Wednesday. The fires, about 215 miles north of the Twin Cities, damaged 70-plus acres and threatened 10 homes in Pike Bay Township.
Wittner was ordered held in Bemidji, and County Attorney Christopher Strandlie is seeking to try the teen as an adult.
Authorities were called about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday about a forest fire and found the two blazes along Hwy. 371, near the Pike Bay Town Hall, southwest of Cass Lake. A Cass County deputy found Wittner at an abandoned railroad bed in the woods nearby. Authorities said Wittner fled and was taken into custody, where he denied being involved and identified someone else as starting the fires.
Cass County officials ruled out the person identified by Wittner, authorities said, and reinterviewed the teen. That was when he said he started a fire “because mosquitoes were bothering him,” a statement from Strandlie’s office said.
The 10 residences were evacuated because of the fires, according to authorities, but no one was hurt. Some abandoned outbuildings were destroyed on the 76 acres, owned by the Potlatch Corp.
It took firefighters from around the region, including air support from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service, about four hours to contain the fire.
Wittner is scheduled to return to court Tuesday.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
Vince Tuss • 612-673-7692