Arson charges laid in connection to Mayerthorpe CN Rail trestle bridge fire

RCMP has charged a Lawson Michael Schalm with 18 counts of arson. Schalm is the son of former Mayerthorpe mayor Albert Schalm.

19-year-old charged with 18 counts of arson

Tuesday's fire destroyed the bridge with in a couple of hours. (Town of Mayerthorpe)

​Mayerthorpe RCMP have charged a 19-year-old man with 18 counts of arson in relation to a fire that burned the CN trestle bridge on Tuesday.

Mayerthorpe, about 120 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, saw as many as 21 suspicious fires over a six day period. 

Lawson Michael Schalm, who is from Mayerthorpe, is charged in connection to many of them. Schalm is the son of former mayor Albert Schalm. 

He was the mayor of Mayerthorpe when four RCMP officers were killed near the town in 2005. 

A Facebook page for Schalm includes photos showing the young man dressed in a firefighter cadet uniform and bunker gear. 

Schalm is also pictured standing in a fire truck in a 2014 article in the Mayerthorpe Freelancer, about an open house at the town's fire department. 

The article says the Mayerthorpe fire department has a cadets program. Youth can join at the age of 15. When they turn 17, they are allowed to respond to general fire calls, it says. 

CBC has reached out to Mayerthorpe fire chief Randy Schroeder, but has not received a response. 

The arson case was high priority within the Mayerthorpe detachment.

Cpl. Sharon Franks said RCMP were able to find and charge the man because of "numerous tips" from the public.

"The dry conditions certainly made it concerning for us and a lot of the officers from Mayerthorpe were certainly focused on finding the person responsible," said Franks.

The CN bridge fire forced the evacuation of nearby schools and a trailer park with 38 mobile homes. Some Lac St. Anne County residents living nearby were also told to be ready to leave on one-hour notice.

Mayerthorpe fire chief Randy Schroeder said last week almost three dozen firefighters from four different fire departments in the area were called to help douse the flames, alongside agriculture and forestry services members, helicopters and a water bomber.

The loss of the bridge will impact the lumber and oil industries "extensively" Schroeder said.

Schalm will remain in custody until he makes his first court appearance on May 4th at Stony Plain Provincial Court.

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      With files from Andrea Ross