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Wellington County arsonist to be sentenced Feb. 27

Justin Beal admitted to setting five fires in rural Wellington County in 2016 and 2017
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Justin Beal. Facebook photo

The Guelph-Eramosa Township man who pled guilty to setting five rural fires in 2016 and 2017 will be sentenced next month.

Justin Beal pled guilty to five counts of arson in a Brampton courtroom last month. Sentencing is set for Guelph Superior Court on Feb. 27.

Beal went to the OPP detachment in Rockwood on Oct. 27, 2017, and confessed to the crimes.

An agreed statement of facts in the case said that in admitting the crimes Beal gave police an eight hour statement detailing the fires.

Several were set with a lit cigarette.

“He informed police during his statement that the reason for lighting the fires was a fetish,” the agreed statement of facts reads.

“He also stated it was also a stress relief from personal issues (dealing with personal debt, and his family).”

Beal stopped lighting the fires because he thought about the firefighters attending to the fires he set and how they would be unavailable to attend to other emergencies.

“He stated it was the last thing he wanted on his conscience,” the court document read.

In late 2016 and early 2017 there were a total of 27 fires at mostly abandoned structures throughout Wellington County.

There were no injuries reported in any of the fires, but the fires did come at considerable expense and risk.

“Not only was there an impact to the owners of the properties, there was also an impact on the volunteer fire departments who had to respond to the five fires,” wrote Justice Bruce Durno.

“In some incidences the firefighters had to conduct searches of the buildings to insure the buildings were empty. This posed a significant risk to the volunteer firefighters’ health and wellbeing.”

The statement also points out the cost incurred to the municipalities in fighting the fires, the cost to property owners and the risk involved to the general public in volunteer firefighters responding to a call-out.

“These fires garnered substantial public attention in the community and brought great concern and panic due to the widespread social media attention.”

Two outstanding arson charges against Beal will be dealt with at sentencing.

The fires Beal has pled guilty to were:

  • Oct. 14, 2016, 5230 3rd Line, Guelph-Eramosa Township: The early morning fire went to an abandoned two-storey farmhouse and threw a lit cigarette into a bush outside the house. It caught fire and burned until the exterior of the house caught on fire. Beal went inside the house to check for occupants and remained in the house on the second floor. He then had to jump from a second floor window to escape the house because fire was blocking the front door. 

  • Oct. 19, 2016, 5292 3rd Line, Guelph-Eramosa Township: Beal went to the abandoned two-storey century stone farmhouse and used a cigarette to start a fire in a chair on the main floor. The property manager noticed suspicious activity on a security camera, went to the property and called the fire department, who extinguished the fire.

  • Feb. 3, 2017, 6873 Highway 7, Guelph-Eramosa Township: At 3 a.m. Beal went to a shed on the property and set fire to it using a cigarette to ignite a bag of insulation. A passer-by witnessed the flames and called 911. The building was completely destroyed.

  • June 25, 2017, 3rd Line at Sideroad 10, Erin Township: at 8:17 a.m. Beal set fire to an abandoned gatehouse at a quarry and used a lighter to set it on fire. A witness walking along the roadway observed someone matching Beal’s description driving a black Ford Mustang suspiciously at the time of the fire. The witness later saw smoke and called 911. The fire was extinguished before any major damage took place.

  • June 25, 2017, 5324 Wellington Road 125, Erin Township: Roughly half an hour after setting the previous fire, Beal set fire to a blanket in the basement of an unoccupied bungalow after driving throughout the night because he was “in a bad mood.” Witnesses called the fire department, who were still fighting the previous fire. The house burned to the ground. Surveillance cameras at two nearby businesses captured video of a car matching the one driven by Beal.