MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A 27-year-old Paynesville man has been charged in connection with an apartment fire Tuesday that left several people displaced.

Sue Lee has been charged with one count of first-degree arson in personal dwelling and one count of first degree arson in a building.

According to the Paynesville Fire Department, just before 4 a.m. Tuesday crews received a call of a structure fire at the Paynesville Place apartments, located on the 700 block of West Main Street.

Upon arrival, a witness told officers he saw a man, later identified as Lee, enter apartment 18 with a gas can and leave a short time later. The witness told officials he smelled smoke and later noticed the building was on fire.

According to the criminal complaint, one of the officers noticed a large amount of smoke coming from apartment 18 and the door was hot to touch. The officer also noticed a window just south of the door was broken, through which the officer could see the entire unit was empty filled with smoke.

The fire had burned through the west side of the apartment and was traveling up to the second floor.

The officer then began to evacuate all the residents of the building.

Crews fought the flames and were able to quell the fire by 6:30 a.m. Everyone was able to get out safely.

Around 8:15 a.m., officials learned Lee’s sister had called 911 to report her brother.

Lee’s sister said he had shown up at her house and was acting strangely.

The criminal complaint states Lee’s sister reported that he told her that he burned his apartment down, and that he believed people were after him. She said she believes he suffers from mental illness. She told police she kicked him out of her house because he was acting so odd.

With information on the vehicle Lee was driving, officers were able to track him to the Brooklyn Park area. They contacted local authorities, and around 2:30 p.m. Brooklyn Police arrested Lee.

According to the criminal complaint, when Lee was apprehended he asked Brooklyn Park police, “So, how much did I burn?”

A search warrant was executed for Lee’s car and a large amount of personal property was found, along with three lighters and a brand new gas can that was practically empty.

Roughly 40 people were displaced by the fire. Anyone who would like to assist the families displaced should call the Paynesville Community Center at 320-243-4953.

If found guilty, Lee faces up to 20 years in prison, a $20,000 fine or both for both counts.

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