Washington man indicted for starting the Ham Lake fire

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008 at 6:03 am

A 64-year-old man from Washington D.C. was indicted yesterday in federal court for allegedly starting the 2007 Ham Lake fire that burned for more than a week, destroyed more than 75,000 acres of forest land and cost approximately $11 million to extinguish.

Stephen George Posniak was charged Oct. 20 in Minneapolis with one count of setting timber afire, one count of leaving a fire unattended and unextinguished, and one count of giving false information to a United States Forest Service officer.

Posniak’s indictment alleges that on May 5, 2007, he did willfully and without authority set on fire timber, underbrush, grass and other inflammable material upon lands owned by the U.S. within the Superior National Forest. Specifically, Posniak allegedly burned paper trash and other
items that ignited a fire in the forest that burned approximately 75,000 acres in the U.S. and Canada and resulted in fire suppression costs of approximately $11 million.

The indictment also alleges that on May 5 Posniak started a fire within the forest that he left without totally extinguishing, and allowed the fire to burn and spread beyond his control and burn unattended.

It also alleges that on May 5 Posniak did knowingly give false, fictitious and fraudulent information to U.S. Forest Service officers by stating that he camped overnight on Cross Bay Lake, not Ham Lake, on the evening of May 4, 2007. Posniak allegedly told officers that he encountered an out-of-control fire already burning at a Ham Lake campsite on the morning of May 5 while paddling back through Ham Lake to Tuscarora Lodge.

If convicted, Posniak faces a potential maximum penalty of five years in prison on the setting timber afire count, and six months each on the other two counts. All sentences are determined by a federal district court judge.

This case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Otteson.

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