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Berns gets one year for arson

A Perham man was sentenced on May 2 to one year in jail for first-degree felony arson.

Jeffrey Berns, 39, was convicted in connection with a March 4, 2010 house fire at his home along the 200 block of Fourth Street Northwest in Perham. In addition to the jail sentence, he will serve 20 years supervised probation.

According to the criminal complaint, Berns called the Perham Fire Department and reported his home was on fire. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they grew suspicious.

Smoldering rags and a pair of underwear were discovered by firefighters next to an electrical box. The smell of natural gas was also present - a scent that disappeared when the gas meters were turned off.

Fire Chief Mark Schmidt reported in the criminal complaint that Berns had shown up to previous fire calls in the area. In one incident, he said Berns climbed into a truck and sat in the vehicle's cab while wearing only his underwear.

In 2008, Berns reported that his garage was on fire; the cause was never determined.

Suspicions prompted the fire department to report the incident to a fire marshal.

According to the report, Berns was alone at the home when the fire started. He said he had been working in the garage when he noticed black smoke coming from inside the home, a view that prompted him to call 911.

Berns told investigators he was not having financial trouble, but his wife later revealed they were behind on their mortgage and had other financial problems, according to the complaint. The home and contents inside were insured for $299,755.