Men Accused of Starting Montana Fires Say They Were Smoking Weed, Shooting Fireworks

Investigators say three young men accused of starting two fires in Montana that damaged at least 13 homes were smoking weed and shooting fireworks in a car the morning it happened.

Jevin James Mclean, 19, and Brandon Cordell Bennett Jr., 18, told investigators they were driving around and smoking weed in the early morning on December 1 before the two fires started in Great Falls.

The Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said Galvinn Coates Munson, 19, intentionally started both fires—the first fire by shooting off a roman candle firework into the grass, and the second fire with a lighter, KRTV reported.

According to court records, Bennett and Mclean told investigators they tried to stomp out the first fire but when they were successful they drove away.

It is unknown if the trio had a clear motive to start the fires. "I can't speak to if they actually had a plan. I believe it was more of an impulsive act," Slaughter said.

The fire started around 2:40 a.m. and destroyed 13 homes, 16 other outbuildings, multiple vehicles and other property, court records said.

"I don't know if anybody who loses their home can be made whole again. There's a lot of memories, there's a lot of irreplaceable items. Pictures, photographs, family memorabilia, things like that that can never be made whole again. There's no amount of money in the world that can make these people feel, probably, whole. It's really sad," said Slaughter.

Indian Reservation, Wildfire, Montana
Two men told investigators they were driving around and smoking weed in the early morning on December 1 before the two fires started in Great Falls, Montana. Above, firefighters watch a hillside burn on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, August 11, near Lame Deer, Montana. Matthew Brown/AP Photo

Munson, Bennett and Mclean were charged Wednesday with arson by accountability or an alternative charge of negligent arson by accountability.

Munson also faces 14 counts of felony criminal endangerment because the fires, which started early in the morning were pushed by high winds, created a risk of death or serious injury to area residents, who were sleeping, court records said.

A short time after the first fire, Munson asked Mclean to pull the car over again and Munson used a lighter to set another fire, his co-defendants said, according to charging documents.

Bennett and Mclean acknowledged taking cellphone video of Munson starting the fires using the Snapchat app, investigators said.

Home surveillance video of a car seen in the area where the fires started, tips from the public and videos of the fires briefly posted on social media helped lead to the arrests, Slaughter said Wednesday.

Justice of the Peace Dave Grubich set bail at $100,000 for Munson, who was out on bail at the time of the fires after being charged earlier this year in a rape that reportedly happened in July 2019. Munson has pleaded not guilty to the rape charge.

Bail was set at $50,000 each for Bennett and Mclean. All are subject to GPS monitoring if they are released, County Attorney Josh Racki said Thursday.

None of the men entered a plea and all requested public defenders, but attorneys have not been appointed, Racki said. The men remained jailed Thursday,

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Denton, Montana, Wildfire, Evacuation
Investigators say three men accused of starting two fires in Montana that damaged at least 13 homes were smoking weed and shooting fireworks on the morning it happened. Above, an aerial photo of the fire damage in Denton, Montana, on December 2. Sgt. Jeremy Johnson, Fergus County Sheriff's Office/AP Photo