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D.C. Man pleads not guilty to Ham Lake fire

The Star Tribune reported that a Washington, D.C., man pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges that he started the mammoth Ham Lake wildfire in Minnesota's Arrowhead in 2007 and lied to authorities about his part in starting the fire.

Stephen George Posniak, 64, indicted in October in association with the May 2007 fire, made his first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Raymond Erickson in Duluth. Posniak was not in custody.

Posniak and his attorney, Mark Larsen of Minneapolis, did not answer questions from the media.

A federal grand jury in Minneapolis indicted Posniak on charges of starting the fire -- the most damaging in Minnesota since 1918 -- by not putting out his campfire before exiting Ham Lake on May 5, 2007. The indictment also says he lied to investigators from the Superior National Forest, saying to them that he'd camped somewhere else and that the fire was burning out of control when he first encountered it.

Seven days later when the fire was finally extinguished, it had burned 76,000 acres in Minnesota and Ontario, consuming 138 structures on the U.S. side alone and costing around $11 million in firefighting official costs.

In an online biography, Posniak said he enjoyed canoeing in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness every May. It also said he has a B.S. from Dartmouth College and an M.A. from the University of Minnesota. He is a retired information technology expert for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.