TRF Man in Custody after Early Morning Fire 03 Aug 17

It was a rude awakening for residents Tuesday, with a one man charged and held pending bail, following an arson related fire at a Thief River Falls Apartment Complex.

Pennington County Attorney, Alan Rogalla, says Robert Eberhardt, 41, of Thief River Falls, is being held at the Law Enforcement Center pending $2,000 cash bail after making his first appearance yesterday before District Judge Kurt Marben.

Eberhardt is charged with Arson in the First Degree, accused of packing up his car, setting fire to his apartment, and then driving away from the scene, risking the lives of scores of other residents in some 40 apartment units. In addition to setting bail, Judge Marben also ordered competency and Mental Illness Evaluations.

The fire, reported just before 2am at the Sunrise Apartments on Oak Avenue North, forced the evacuation the apartment building, after one resident reported the sound of a smoke alarm and heavy smoke from under the door of “Apartment 110.”

Police and sheriff’s deputies first on the scene found window curtains pulled, the front door hot to the touch, and broke through the door to find the unit full of smoke. Fire fighters followed and quickly had the situation under control, with residents able to return to their apartments after around an hour and a half.

According to the State Fire Marshall’s investigation; the fire was generated and contained in a safe, with the door left ajar. Fire officials would later confirm the smoke alarm inside the apartment was sounding, although an M-80 Firework had been stuffed into it.  Co-Fire Chief Rick Beier says fire fighters found the “Pull Station” was not working when they tried to sound the alarm to evacuate residents, the State Fire Marshall finding the building alarm had been disabled.

Eberhardt was taken into custody after officers identified his car from license plate numbers later that morning. Speaking with Investigator Marissa Adam, Eberhardt admitted setting the fire, and said he left the building because he, “had to get out of there and time was of the essence.” A search warrant issued for the vehicle turned up a number of personal items, but also a small arsenal of weapons, including a loaded SKS Rifle.

Eberhardt’s next court appearance is scheduled August 21st.