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Teenager responsible for wildfire ordered to pay back $161K


A northern Minnesota teenager responsible for starting a forest fire near Cass Lake will have to pay back a forestry company and the state's DNR for the damage it caused.

Anthony James Wittner was ordered to pay $161,103 in restitution for the May 2014 blaze, the result of two fires he started, the Cass County Attorney's Office said in a press release.

About $123,000 of that will go to the DNR for the costs of containing the fire. About $38,000 is going to Potlatch Corporation, who lost timber in the blaze.

He was 17 at the time of the crime, but has since turned 18. He had pleaded guilty to felony wildfire arson and a misdemeanor charge of fleeing a police officer.

Wittner will also have to complete a 28-day program at the Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center to "help gain insight into the gravity and nature of his offense," the attorney's office said.

The fire required aerial water tankers and helicopters working alongside local volunteer firefighters to contain. The blaze "burned out of control," the attorney's office said, damaging 50 acres of forest.

About 10 homes had to be evacuated, as well as the Cass Lake-Bena middle and high schools.

Two days later, the attorneys' office issued a release saying Wittner fled on foot when found near the scene by a deputy. The officer caught up and apprehended Wittner, who denied any involvement. At a later interview however, Wittner said he started the second fire because "mosquitoes were bothering him," the attorney's office said.

There are a few more conditions to his juvenile disposition sentence which, if he breaks before turning 21, could result in an adult sentence being imposed instead.

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