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Chief: Albany school arsonist tied to St. Helens fires

Zachary Lee Burghart linked to 2000 fire

A man convicted of arson at South Albany High School also confessed to starting at least two fires in St. Helens years ago, according to the chief of Columbia River Fire & Rescue.

Zachary Lee Burghart admitted he was behind a carport fire at Paulson Printing, near his childhood home in St. Helens, in 2000, as well as a fire outside a downtown St. Helens apartment complex in 2010, Chief Jay Tappan said.

Burghart, who is now 28, had been a suspect in the 2000 commercial fire, according to Tappan.

“We had talked to the family at the time and the father had stated he was concerned about his son’s fascination with fire,” Tappan told the Spotlight.

The chief “strongly suspects” Burghart was behind another fire in 1996 that destroyed an Italian restaurant and four other St. Helens businesses, including one owned by Burghart’s father, when he was a small boy.

“We never could figure out what started it, but it was on the back side, most likely where he would have done it,” he said.

Burghart, who was also convicted last year for a string of arsons in Scio, was arrested after a suspicious April 1 fire at South Albany High that caused $14.5 million in damage, according to KOIN 6 News, the Spotlight’s news partner. He was convicted of arson and sentenced last month to 15 years in prison.

Tappan said Burghart’s admission of guilt in the St. Helens fires may have helped prosecutors build a case against him.

“I think they just used a lot of this as background information to kind of make the case down there that this guy’s got a long history of disturbing behavior,” he said.

Fire-starting tendencies can manifest at an early age. This spring, a 10-year-old boy confessed to starting fires that destroyed batting cages at St. Helens High School and damaged a St. Helens house, and in Eugene, four boys are facing arson charges over a fire that destroyed historic Civic Stadium on June 29.