After more than 20 suspicious fires in the space of a few weeks, it didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that an arsonist was at work in the small town of Mayerthorpe, Alberta—but the real shock was the suspect's identity. On Saturday, volunteer firefighter Lawson Michael Schalm, 19, was arrested and charged with 18 counts of arson, including one relating to a spectacular fire that destroyed a rail trestle bridge last week, the National Post reports. Authorities say Schalm, the son of an ex-mayor, helped fight at least five of the fires and was a bystander at several others. "We're certainly very shocked, bewildered, wounded, and a little hurt," fire Chief Randy Schroeder says. "The discovery that one of our own potentially lit 18 fires is definitely affecting our station."
Schroder tells Global News that the situation is "heartbreaking" and firefighters are struggling to deal with the apparent betrayal by Schalm, who started out as a cadet at 15 and had good prospects of becoming a career firefighter. "I would like to be able to roll the tape back metaphorically speaking and get a better understanding," the chief says. Former mayor Albert Schalm says that while he is shocked by the allegations, his love for his son is "unconditional" and there "will always be a dinner plate at my table" for him." I refuse to throw my son under the bus. I'm not that kind of dad," he tells the CBC. "My goal is to get him back on the road, get his future going again." (This California man filmed himself starting a massive wildfire and is now serving 20 years in prison.)