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17-year-old held, charged in Cass County fire

BEMIDJI -- A 17-year-old rural Cass Lake boy has been charged with felony wildfire arson in connection to a fire Wednesday that burned 70 acres south of Cass Lake in Pike Bay Township.

Cass County Attorney Christopher Strandlie announced the charges Friday, the same day the 17-year-old appeared in court, according to a release from Strandlie's office. The Pioneer does not name juveniles involved in court proceedings; however, Strandlie said he has filed a request with the court to certify the youth as an adult.

According to reports, Cass County dispatch received a report of a forest fire at approximately 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. A Cass County deputy responded to an area on the west side of State Highway 371 near the Pike Bay Town Hall. Upon arrival, the deputy observed a large fire burning near 15469 State Highway 371 and another fire burning approximately 100 yards to the south that appeared to be smaller. Believing the responsible party was heading south through the woods, the deputy took a position approximately 300 yards south of the second fire, the release said. The deputy walked approximately 100 yards into the woods to an abandoned railroad bed, where he encountered an individual, subsequently identified as the youth. The deputy identified himself and ordered the boy to exit the woods and raise his hands, the release said. The boy fled from the deputy, who gave chase and apprehended him a short time later. The 17-year-old initially denied any involvement with lighting the fire and implicated another party, the release said. However, after investigating, Cass County law enforcement ruled out the other party as a suspect and re-interviewed the 17-year-old, who admitted starting the second fire because mosquitos were bothering him.

Multiple area fire departments, including from Bemidji, as well as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the National Forest Service, Leech Lake Department of Resources, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Conservation Corps of Minnesota were deployed to fight

the blaze and protect homes. The blaze damaged approximately 70 acres of wooded land owned by Potlatch Corp., and residents of 10 dwellings were evacuated because of the fire.

The youth is being held at the Northwestern Juvenile Center in Bemidji. His next court appearance is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday.