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Police charge Portland man with arson in art museum fire

Posted March 24, 2014, at 3:24 p.m.
Last modified March 24, 2014, at 5:04 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A 19-year-old man was charged with Class A arson in connection with a fire set Sunday night behind the Portland Museum of Art, city officials said Monday afternoon.

Robert Johnson of Portland was taken into custody shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday at the intersection of Congress and Center streets, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck told reporters during a Monday news conference.

The arson arrest does not resolve an investigation into a series of trash can and Dumpster fires that occurred over the weekend, however. Sauschuck said Johnson has not been charged with setting eight fires discovered between late Friday night and Sunday night on Center Street, Forest Avenue, Commercial Street, Danforth Street and Congress Street.

In all the cases, including the Portland Museum of Art fire, authorities described the damage as not being significant.

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“Those fires, although they were not of particularly serious size or scope, they were a danger to residents and responders,” Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria told reporters at the Monday news conference. “It does create a challenge when you have multiple resources tied up at once.”

Charring can be seen on the bricks in a secluded corner at the rear of the art museum building, but unlike the other fires, Sauschuck said the museum fire was not set in a container. Instead, the blaze was set in garbage pushed up against the building.

Police interviewed a second person who was with Johnson at the time of his arrest, but that person has been released.

The case remains under investigation. Sauschuck said police are not yet ready to release a suspected motive in the museum fire case.

Class A felonies are punishable by up to 30 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.

 

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