BRATTLEBORO -- A former tenant of the Lawrence Block apartment has been charged with arson in the July 7 fire at the South Main Street property.
James Ryan, 46, was arraigned in Windham County Superior Court, Criminal Division, Monday, and could face up to 10 years in prison for allegedly setting the fire that displaced nine tenants and families.
Ryan is also facing two charges of reckless endangerment and two charges of giving false information to police.
Ryan was released on conditions, including that he not leave the county, he stay away from the property at 23 South Main St. and that he not come into contact with the property owner, John Dunphy, or with witness Todd Maskell.
He was released without bail because he has been cooperating with investigators.
Ryan's arrest followed a joint investigation of the Brattleboro Fire Department, the Brattleboro Police Department and the Vermont State Police arson unit.
"All three agencies worked hard to bring this all together," Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Bucossi said after Ryan appeared in court.
According to the affidavit of Det. Michael Carrier, Ryan confessed to setting the fire during an interview at the Brattleboro Police Department on July 19.
Ryan said he set the fire because Dunphy was taking too long to fix a water leak, the affidavit says.
Ryan also was angry because he was four months overdue on his rent and Dunphy was not working with
The two-alarm fire was started around 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 7.
The Brattleboro police and fire departments responded to the South Main Street apartment just before 6 p.m. and the tenants were evacuated.
BFD Lt. Mark Geno determined that the fire was suspicious and Geno quickly discovered that the fire was started in the west corner of a closet on the second floor, and that an accelerant was used as a possible ignition source.
Terri Maskell told the police that Ryan was afraid of being evicted and he set the fire because he knew if the building burned he would be given a place to stay.
Two days after the fire, Todd Maskell contacted the Brattleboro Police Department to say that Ryan wanted to burn the apartment down.
Todd Maskell told investigators that Ryan had confessed to starting the fire in a closet of his apartment.
Investigators went to Ryan's apartment and found the source of the fire in the ceiling.
Ryan originally blamed a former tenant for starting the fire, but after that suspect was questioned, Ryan later called the police and admitted to starting the blaze.
Ryan sent a text message to Terri Maskell on July 21 indicating that he set the fire.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.