Man charged with arson after fire in North St. Paul

North St. Paul police arrested a man for suspected arson after a fire damaged the exterior of a home just before 3 a.m. Tuesday.

A criminal complaint names Thomas Charles Nelson, 48, as a man charged in Ramsey County court for first-degree arson. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The North St. Paul Fire Department said crews responded to a home in the 2600 block of Apache Road at around 2:55 a.m. and quickly extinguished the fire. Fortunately, the flames did not spread to the interior of the home.

The home’s occupant reportedly escaped without any injuries, and no other injuries were reported. The report states a neighbor called 911 when she noticed the fire and ran to her neighbor’s home to wake him up.

Police then spoke to the man who lived there and were told that Nelson is the man’s son and that Nelson suffers from schizophrenia. Nelson’s father added that Nelson was not taking his medication and hadn’t spoken to family members for about a month.

The father said Nelson had not made any threats to him or family members.

The Ramsey County Fire Investigation Team (FIT) responded to the scene due to the suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire.

Investigators noticed a red, five-gallon gas container on a step against the south side entrance.

Police then saw surveillance video showing a dark-colored sedan parked in front of the Apache Road home about an hour before the fire was reported.

Officers then spoke to the manager of a Holiday gas station who showed them surveillance video of a man who purchased a red, five-gallon gas tank about five hours before the fire. The man also put about $25 worth of gas into the tank. Court records say the homeowner then identified the man in the video as his son, Nelson.

Police then arrested Nelson at his home in St. Paul. The complaint states that Nelson said he knew why police had contacted him but declined to make a custodial statement.

The Ramsey County Fire Investigation Team said they believe the fire was intentionally set with the use of an accelerant. They also noted the strong smell of gasoline and the partially melted gas can.