Cass Attorney wants juvenile who allegedly set fires certified as as adult
17 year old Cass Lake youth charged in arson fire that damaged over 70 acres and endangered multiple homes in Pike Bay Township. Cass County Attorney Christopher Strandlie announces that Anthony James Wittner of rural Cass Lake has been charged with felony Wildfire Arson for intentionally setting a fire that burned out of control on Wednesday May 28, 2014. Strandlie also stated that he has filed pleadings asking the court to certify Wittner as an adult.
According to police reports, Cass County dispatch received a report of a forest fire at approximately 1:30 Wednesday afternoon. 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 that the responsible party was heading south through the woods the deputy took a position approximately 300 yards south of the second fire. The deputy walked approximately 100 yards into the woods to an abandoned railroad bed where he encountered an individual, subsequently identified as Wittner. The deputy identified himself and ordered Wittner to exit the woods and raise his hands. Wittner fled from the deputy who gave chase and apprehended him a short time later. Wittner initially denied any involvement with lighting the fire and implicated another party. After investigation, Cass County law enforcement ruled out the other party as a suspect and re-interviewed Wittner. During the second interview, Wittner admitted starting the second fire indicating that he did so because mosquitos were bothering him.
Multiple area fire departments as well as the Minnesota DNR, the National Forest Service, Leech Lake Department of Resources, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Conservation Corps of MN were deployed to fight the blaze and protect homes. Departments involved in suppression and protection included departments from Cass Lake, Bemidji, Lakeport, Walker, Hackensack, Backus, Blackduck and Solway. In addition the DNR and Forest Service provided fire suppression service including air support. The blaze damaged approximately 70 acres of wooded land owned by Potlatch Corporation. The residents of approximately 10 dwellings were evacuated due to the danger presented to their homes. The Cass County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation with assistance from the Leech Lake Tribal Police, Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office, Pike Bay Police Department and the Minnesota State Patrol.
Wittner appeared in court on May 30th and was ordered to be detained at the Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Detention Center in Bemidji. His next court date is scheduled for June 3rd at 3:00 p.m.