Volunteer firefighter connected to a series of fires in Grant County

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A volunteer firefighter has been charged with four felony counts in connection to a series of fires that has plagued the Grant County area.

“We did receive a lot of concerns from the community about the fires, especially when they started escalating to structures,” said John Foss, Grant County Sheriff.

Foss said for the last year and half his department has been investigating a string of suspicious fires in the Grant County area.

“The reason they were suspicious is because some of them happened during a time of the day when there wasn’t any lighting or any reason for them,” said Foss

Some of the Elgin residents were starting to notice them too.

“It had been wet, so why were there fires starting up? We had a burn ban and stuff, but it wasn’t during the burn ban that the fires happened, ” said Janice Hillebrand an Elgin Resident.

Recently, the Grant County Sheriff’s Department arrested Elgin Volunteer Firefighter John Iszler.

He is charged with three felony counts of endangerment by fire or explosion and one felony count of criminal mischief.

“It totally shocked me . . .to think the fires started, and then he would show up and help put them out,” said Hillebrand.

Foss said tips from the public and evidence gathered from the scene of the fires helped lead to his arrest.

Iszler confessed to the sheriff’s department that he started three grass fires in the Grant County area, and three structural fires in Elgin.

“One was a detached garage. One was Dakota Farm Equipment building, and the other was an apartment complex,” said Foss.

The Dakota Farm Equipment building fire was started on New Year’s Eve, and was one of the biggest fires Elgin has ever experienced.

The building was a total loss, and the fire was initially ruled accidental by the ND State Fire Marshal.

Mark Ballard, co- owner of Dakota Farm Equipment, said he is glad to hear someone was apprehended in the incident, but right now they are just focusing on the future and doing business in Elgin.

The three grass fires were in April on the 18, 24, and 25 of this year.

The garage fire was on Christmas Eve, and Foss said he noticed during his investigation the fires were becoming less spread out and were happening more frequently.

Iszler also admitted to the sheriff’s department that he used aerosol cleaner to start and accelerate his fires, one of which was the West Acre Apartment fire this February.

Janice Hillebrand was living in one of the units when the fire started.

“I walked outside into the hallway and the building behind me was just totally in flames”.

Hillebrand said she was displaced for about three months and lost a lot of  her personal belongings in the fire, but she is relived that someone has been caught.

“There is something going on in him, and he needs to get the right kind of help”.

The sheriff’s department is also glad to report that nobody was hurt in any of the fires, and they are looking forward to more peaceful days ahead.

If convicted, Iszler could face up to 30 years in prison, and he is currently being held at the Burleigh Morton County Detention Center on $100,000 bond.

The Elgin Fire Protection District declined to comment for this story.

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