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Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith, 62

A 62-year-old man is in custody following a Friday morning arson fire at a long-vacant cabin.

Missoula Rural Fire crews arrived south of town Friday to find a 600-square-foot log cabin in flames. Fire Chief Chris Newman told the Missoulian the structure had been long abandoned, sometimes a haven for squatters, when it caught fire.

Crews arrived near Buckhouse Bridge south of Missoula around 10:30 a.m. and put the fire out in approximately 20 minutes, according to a release from MRFD. The quick work on the blaze, Newman said in the release, saved an adjacent shop from any damage. 

Thomas Smith, 62, was booked into Missoula County jail around 2:11 p.m., records show. He is being held on $50,000 for arson causing damage more than $1,500. 

Two water tenders accompanied the four engines, a ladder truck and two command vehicles to the scene, as there were no hydrants in the area to assist crews. 

"There's a fair amount of fuel load when you're talking about a relatively small place like a 600-square-foot cabin, but you're talking about a full wood structure that's fully involved when you arrive," Newman said. "It takes a lot of water to put it out."

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In a follow-up statement released Friday afternoon, MRFD said its investigators determined the fire was human-caused. Missoula County deputies brought the suspect in custody, according to MRFD, although the intent of the fire is so far unknown. 

Newman said the suspect was picked up by law enforcement away from the scene of the fire. 

The cabin was a total loss with an initial estimate around $5,000. The nearby shop that went unscathed is valued at $150,000, the release stated. 

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