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Steven Posniak, a former ANC commissioner representing the American University Park neighborhood, faces federal charges for setting the 2007 Ham Lake fire in Minnesota, the state’s largest and most expensive forest fire in 80 years.
The indictment alleges Posniak, 64, who notably fought Metro bus cutbacks in Tenleytown, was camping and left his campsite while trash was still burning. The Ham Lake fire burned more than 70,000 acres and about 150 structures, including cabins and homes, valued at $4 million. According to Pioneer Press, the fire cost more than $11 million to put out.
Reached at his home today, Posniak said he could not speak publicly about what happened and referred calls to his lawyer in Minnesota, Mark Larsen. Larsen has told the Minnesota press his client will plead not guilty.
Posniak, who is listed as a retired computer programmer and went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, will attend a federal arraignment in Minneapolis, St. Paul, or Duluth, according a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota. A trial date will be set after that.
The indictment, according to reports, alleges Posniak gave “false, factitious and fraudulent information” to the U.S. Forest Service in telling officers he camped at Cross Bay Lake and came across the out-of-control fire at Ham Lake.
Drought conditions helped fuel the fire; hundreds were evacuated and it closed the popular Gunflint Trail into Ontario for weeks. No one was injured. Larsen says Posniak has been cooperating with federal officials in the investigation and will continue to do so.