Montana: man arrested for arson has fire department history

The man arrested Thursday for starting multiple fires in the Helena, Montana area was briefly a member of the East Valley Volunteer Fire Department, according to an article in the Helena Independent Record.

Frederick James May, 18, was charged with 12 counts of arson in connection with fires near York on Wednesday and in the Priest Pass area May 10. Five of those fires are being managed as the Sweats Complex, with the total number of acres burned listed at 450 with 225 personnel assigned.

Below are some excerpts from the Helana IR:

East Valley Volunteer Fire Chief Dave Sammons confirmed Thursday that Maw had served with that department for “about three or four months” last year before turning in his gear and preparing to join the military.

He had a relatively low level of participation in the department activities, Sammons said.

When Maw applied this winter to rejoin the department, he was refused, Sammons said, based on a review of his earlier performance.


Frederick James Maw, 18, was spotted on the scene of the fires outside York on Nelson Road, as well as in the Spokane Hills in Broadwater County on Tuesday, in full firefighting gear but apparently not affiliated with any of the fire crews.According to early reports, he claimed he was a contract firefighter.


He eventually admitted starting all three sets of recent fires, according to the report — nine in the York area, three on Priest Pass on May 10 and two in the Spokane Hills on Tuesday.Each arson count carries a possible penalty of 20 years in a prison and a fine of up to $50,000.

His arrest at about 5:50 p.m. Thursday capped a day in which fire crews scrambled to contain five fires suspiciously located on either side of Nelson Road. Deputies blocked the exit from the area in York to question travelers.

Rain on Thursday and higher humidity slowed the five fires in the Sweats Complex considerably. Their current status of as of 10 a.m. May 17:

  • Hunters Gulch at 150 acres and the fire is 75% contained
  • Sweats Gulch at about 300 acres and 25% contained
  • Pipepline Fire at 1 acre; contained, controlled and in patrol status
  • Kelly Gulch fires are a total of 5 acres and about 90% contained
  • Cottontail Fire at 2 acres is contained, controlled and in patrol status

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.