A Helena man who deliberately sparked dozens of wildfires in May 2013 to bolster his work as a seasonal firefighter was sentenced Monday to 35 years in the Montana State Prison for starting another blaze in 2016. 

In 2013, Frederick James Maw lit 20 fires in Priest Pass, Spokane Hills and the York-Nelson area, causing nearly $1 million in damage. He was arrested in the York-Nelson area in full firefighting gear holding a trigger-operated lighter. He initially said he was a contract firefighter but confessed to starting the fires because he enjoyed the camaraderie of firefighting and needed the financial payoff from fighting fires. He received a 40-year suspended sentence for the 2013 offenses. 

While Maw was still on probation, he was arrested in April 2016 for lighting an acre-sized fire on a ranch where he was working. He was sentenced Monday to 60 years in prison with 25 of those suspended for the 2016 fire, which caused some $800,000 in damage. 

“I’m sorry to be throwing him away to some degree,” Judge Kathy Seeley said as she handed down the sentence. 

While she noted that Maw has serious mental health concerns, she also said he is "an incredible danger" to society. 

“This is a mental health issue, but it’s also an antisocial issue,” Seeley said.

Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher had asked the judge to impose a 40-year prison sentence with none of that time suspended. 

“There needs to be a mechanism to keep this community safe from him,” Gallagher said.

“The goal is to make sure he’s under supervision for the rest of his life," he added. 

Maw apologized Monday to those in the courtroom, including several firefighters there to watch the sentencing.

He will be eligible for parole in eight years.


Reporter at the Helena Independent Record.

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