Ex-Babbitt fire chief sentenced to 60 months in prison for starting fires

The former fire chief of Babbitt, Minn., was sentenced Thursday to 60 months in federal prison for setting fires in the Superior National Forest and elsewhere, and attempting arson. He's also been ordered to pay $27,140 in restitution to cover the cost of fighting the fires.

Ryan G. Scharber pled guilty in November to one count of setting fire to U.S. forest land in Superior National Forest and one count of attempted arson of a building on Mattila's Birch Lake Resort in Babbitt.

U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim sentenced Scharber to 12 months for setting fire to the forest and 60 months for attempted arson, although he'll serve the sentences at the same time.

Investigators used pole cameras, GPS tracking devices and cell phone records in their search for a suspect as they investigated suspicious fires set between August 2011 and September 2012, according to court documents.

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In December 2012, investigators interviewed more than two dozen law enforcement employees and executed two search warrants at Scharber's residence and fire department headquarters.

Scharber initially took no responsibility and attempted to steer investigators toward other possible suspects, including former and current firefighters, then later admitted to investigators he set nine fires and one attempted arson at Mattila's resort, court documents stated.

Two days after his interview with investigators, Scharber resigned his position as chief and delivered a handwritten apology to members of the Babbitt Volunteer Fire Department.

Scharber explained that he set fires as "an excuse to get out of his house for a few hours to get relief from his newborn child's acid reflux issues," according to a prosecutor's memo.

A psychiatrist diagnosed Scharber with pyromania, according to the memo.

MPR News reporter Jon Collins contributed to this report.