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Whitefish Township Volunteer Firefighter charged with arson

Joseph Halder was arrested while he was fighting one of the fires he is accused of starting

A firefighter for the Whitefish Township volunteer fire department in Chippewa County was officially charged today for setting fire to a building Saturday night.

Joseph Halder appeared in Chippewa County District Court to hear the charge against him by Hon. Eric G. Bluebaugh.

Halder was charged with 3rd-degree arson. If found guilty, the maximum sentence is 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

First responders got the call around 8:45 p.m. Saturday for a fire at the former Ruth's Gift Shop in downtown Paradise.

Chippewa County Sheriff Mike Bitnar was on the scene moments after the call came in.

He immediately looked over surveillance footage from a gas station located across the street from the fire.

A short time later, deputies arrested the 35-year-old Halder.....while he was fighting the fire.

Sheriff Bitnar said without the video, it would have been that much harder to find a cause or suspect.

"I was able to review that video and I came up with a suspect vehicle and a suspect," said Bitnar.

Bitnar also believes that this one situation does not represent the other first responders.

"Chippewa County has amazing first responders, EMS and firefighters.  This does not represent the overall volunteer group we have in our county. Then again, if there is somebody posing amongst those who are there to do good, you have to get those people out of there," said Bitnar.

Hon. Blubaugh put Halder's bond at $200,000 in part due to his extensive criminal history.  If Halder is able to post bond, Blubaugh put several restrictions on Halder, including wearing a tether.

Bitnar is concerned that Halder might be involved in other fires.

"It was the third such structure fire in the area in a short amount of time. Which by itself is kind of suspicious. Halder is a person of interest in those two previous fires," continued Bitnar.

Here are the two other fires Sheriff Bitnar is referring to that Soo Leader covered.

Halder's next appearance in court will be Dec. 4 at 9:30 a.m. for his preliminary examination.

None of the allegations have been tested in court and Joseph Halder is considered innocent unless proven guilty.