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Former fire chief diagnosed as pyromaniac; awaits sentencing

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The former fire chief who pleaded guilty to starting multiple fires in a national forest has been diagnosed as a pyromaniac, the Star Tribune reports.

Ryan G. Scharber, who served as chief of the St. Louis County community's volunteer for four years, pleaded guilty to two charges last November: One count of setting fires on U.S. forest land, and one count of attempted arson. Altogether, the Star Tribune says he admitted to starting nine fires. The 30-year-old is scheduled to be sentenced April 10.

The paper reports Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dunne argued in a memorandum that Scharber did not go outside and set the fires to get respite from his ill newborn child – which Scharber claimed in a presentence report. Instead, Dunne wrote, Scharber was diagnosed with pyromania by a psychiatrist at the Range Mental Health Center.

“The real reason behind the defendant’s criminal conduct in this case was that diagnosis,” Dunne said, according to the Star Tribune.

Federal prosecutors say Scharber set fires in Superior National Forest on Oct. 7-9 and Oct. 11, 2011. It also says he set fires on Apr. 29 and Sept. 10, 2012. The attempted arson took place at Mattila’s Birch Lake Resort on Dec. 3, 2011.

Scharber joined the Babbitt fire department in August of 2005. He was named fire chief in January of 2008, then resigned nearly five years later (December of 2012) after news broke he was being investigated.

The Star Tribune says authorities got involved after a series of 39 suspicious fires in Babbitt and the Superior National Forest during 2011.

In a Sept. 2011 report, Scharber is interviewed by FOX 21 on a record number of fires in Babbitt that year, including a rise in arsons. Scharber said in the report that the department was watching for “anybody suspicious hanging out or someone showing up at the same fires over and over again.”

A join investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the DNR and the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office started in May of 2012.

The investigation included pole cameras, GPS devices, dozens of interviews, cellphone records and searches of Scharber's residence. The Star Tribune says a breakthrough came in December, when the owner of Mattila Birch Lake Resort caught Scharber on the property, and found a gas can in his wake. She called police.

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