Helena (MT) Man Charged With Arson in Connection with House Fire

Independent Record, Helena, Mont.


Aug. 13—A 70-year-old Helena man was arrested on suspicion of intentionally setting fire to a residence Wednesday while people were inside.

Robert T. Chickene is charged with felony arson in connection with the fire at the home on North Davis Street.

On Wednesday morning, law enforcement received a report that a bedroom was on fire in the basement of the home. Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire within 10 minutes, Helena Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Mike Chambers said.

Officers learned that Chickene was being evicted from the property. According to court documents, the defendant allegedly told staff of the home that he would “murder them and burn the place down.” He allegedly said he hoped the “fire insurance” on the residence was up to date.

Officers also learned the defendant had been in a fight with another resident prior to the fire. The bedroom that belonged to that resident was the room where the fire started. A neighbor who saw the defendant entering the residence told police he was carrying a red gas can. The neighbor took a photograph of the defendant walking with something in his hand. Authorities said the home is a business with multiple residents.

The defendant was located by officers in a nearby alley. The defendant was intoxicated and consuming alcohol when he was found. The defendant reportedly had a large amount of blood on him and had some matches.

The defendant denied starting a fire, but admitted to fighting the other resident. He also denied making any threatening statements to the manager of the residence.

In the residence, officers found a red gas can with a small amount of gas still in it and the cap missing. Police noted that the can had blood smears on it. An aerosol can of degreaser was located in another resident’s room and also had blood on it. There were drops of blood reportedly throughout the basement and going up the stairs to an outdoor gazebo area. Officers learned that this was where the gas can had been kept.

The resident who lives in the room where the aerosol can was found had been sleeping during the incident. One resident told officers the defendant opened their door and said something. He reportedly had blood on his face. About 15 minutes later, residents were awakened by smoke and fled the residence.

The fire caused more than $1,500 in damage to the property. The fire is believed to have started on the bed in the middle of the room.

All charged are presumed innocent until proven guilty.


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