An Ellsworth woman made her initial court appearance this month on an arson charge following a 2017 fire at her former town of Trenton home.
Mary E. Melstrom, 42, pleaded not guilty March 4 to two felonies - arson and criminal property damage - and negligent handling of burning material at her initial appearance in Pierce County Circuit Court. The charges stem from a Nov. 26, 2017, fire at her former residence, where prosecutors allege Melstrom twice trespassed in the following months.
Those incidents, from June 10, 2018, and Nov. 10, 2018, resulted in two counts of criminal trespassing, two counts of criminal property damage and one count of resisting an officer. She pleaded not guilty to those misdemeanor charges as well at the March 4 hearing.
Melstrom was released on a $25,000 signature bond ahead of an April 22 preliminary hearing.
According to the complaint alleging arson:
Pierce County sheriff's deputies were called to W7680 165th Ave. in the town of Trenton for a house fire. Melstrom lived in the house, though investigators learned the property was in foreclosure and the mortgage holder was the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Services.
The fire destroyed the home's basement and left heavy smoke damage on the main floor.
A witness told officers Melstrom approached her to say her house was on fire and that she had poured gasoline on a pile of clothes in the basement. Deputies placed Melstrom in emergency detention while on scene of the fire.
An investigator later listened to a 911 call received by the Goodhue County Sheriff's Department. The investigator said Melstrom was the caller and reported "umm, I started my basement on fire and my house is burning down and that had better get down here quick." Asked for the address, the caller said "it's on my phone" before hanging up.
Two neighbors called afterward to report the fire. Melstrom's brother called Pierce County dispatchers to report receiving a call from his sister, who told him she had removed all the animals from the home and was going to burn the house down.
A fire investigation conducted by a private firm turned up gasoline found on the kitchen countertop and multiple gas cans in the basement - two of which tested positive in a laboratory for the presence of gasoline.
The fire investigator determined the blaze started in the basement near the bottom of the steps. No ignition source was identified, but the investigator could not rule out an open flame as the source.