- Associated Press - Friday, April 3, 2015

ALBANY, Ore. (AP) - A 28-year-old man charged with setting fires that destroyed an Albany high school cafeteria and caused a propane-tank explosion at a nearby home was arraigned Thursday on arson counts.

Zachary Lee Burghart told police he started the fire at South Albany High School early Wednesday by tossing a lit cigarette into a trash bin and crashed his vehicle into gates around the school, according to court documents filed in Linn County Circuit Court. He also acknowledged starting a travel-trailer fire that resulted in propane tanks exploding at a nearby residence about the same time, the Albany Democrat-Herald reported (https://is.gd/kZaYX1).

Bail was set Thursday at $500,000, and Corvallis lawyer Joan Demarest was appointed to represent the man. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 20.

No one was injured in either fire.

The blaze, which drew about 70 firefighters, left the school closed until next week and destroyed its band and music equipment. The fire also left officials scrambling to replace the 4,000 lunches the cafeteria supplied daily to other schools.

Described as a Navy veteran suffering from mental health issues, Burghart pleaded guilty last fall to an arson charge in a series of fires set in the nearby community of Scio. He was given probation and ordered to get mental health counseling, the newspaper reported.

He was arrested Wednesday night for investigation of arson and related offenses, Albany police said.

South Albany, one of the two high schools in the city, has a campus with 11 separate buildings. The fire was confined to the cafeteria building, which also housed band and choir rooms.

Nobody was in the building when the fire broke out about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. The roof collapsed two hours later.

One of the officers dispatched to the fire scene spotted the driver of a white Jeep Cherokee come into the area, spot police cars and leave quickly, Albany police Capt. Eric Carter said. The license plate was traced to Burghart, who was picked up later Wednesday.

In October, a series of fires in Scio, 15 miles northeast of Albany, destroyed a car, a pickup truck, a barn and about $15,000 worth of hay, the newspaper reported at the time.

Burghart was living nearby then and told detectives he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

At trial, his lawyer, James Huffman, said Burghart had been declared disabled while in the Navy, and the fires occurred when he was off his medications.

Because he had no criminal history, the plea deal included probation, said the prosecutor, Michael Wynhausen.

Albany is a Willamette Valley city of 51,000 about 70 miles south of Portland.

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