Woman faces arson charges for fires started near Seeley — (The Missoulian)

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The Missoulian

By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian

A Seeley Lake summer resident who told authorities she loved the area nevertheless is accused of starting two small fires near the Montana Pines Hideaway on Monday morning.

Elizabeth Anna Sleath, 58, was charged with felony attempted arson and ordered held on $100,000 bail in Missoula County Justice Court on Tuesday.

According to Missoula Deputy County Attorney Betty Wing, Sleath allegedly started two fires on property belonging to Ron and Jean Flink, who own the Hideaway. Both fires were extinguished by the Flinks and area firefighters before they could get out of control.

In her affidavit, Wing reported Sleath’s husband, Charles Sleath, saying his wife had breast cancer and needed medication for depression. She also allegedly was a secret binge drinker who had been twice arrested for DUI.

Jean Flink, told investigators the Sleaths had spent many summers in Seeley Lake and last week bought a cabin from the Flinks that they intended to renovate.

According to the affidavit, the Flinks’ son, Alex, 14, saw Sleath’s truck parked west of the Flinks’ cabin Monday morning. He said he saw her drive away and 15 minutes later noticed smoke coming from the bushes where she was. Alex and Ron Flink were able to put out the fire with garden hoses.

About 10:50 a.m., the father and son were working on another cabin near Sleath’s camper when Alex allegedly saw Sleath walking into a nearby wooded area. Minutes after she left the scene, Alex said, he heard a crackling noise and saw another fire. This blaze was out of range of the Flinks’ hoses.

Ron Flink told investigators that Sleath approached him and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

He told her to stop lighting fires.

Flink told investigators Sleath then went into her camper and didn’t come out until deputies came to arrest her.

Meanwhile, a firefighting crew with a fire engine arrived and put the second fire out. The Flinks contacted Charles Sleath, who drove from the family home in Clancy to Seeley Lake. Investigators said Charles Sleath “did not seem surprised that his wife had gotten in trouble but was surprised that she had started the fires.” He also told them she may have lit the fires to get attention or as an attempt to kill herself, according to the affidavit.

Jean Flink also described Sleath as “a wonderful woman who often bakes treats for neighbors.”

But on Monday, Jean Flink said Sleath was acting strangely and appeared to be drinking alcohol. Flink described Sleath as “obsessed” with the progression of the Jocko Lakes fire burning west of the town, adding Sleath would repeatedly drive down to the lake to check on the fire’s condition. Flink also suspected Sleath had been drinking Sunday evening before a town meeting about the fire, so Flink offered to drive her to the meeting site.

Sleath was arrested without incident shortly after firefighters put out the second blaze. Missoula County Sheriff’s Detective Dave Brenner said Sleath told him she “didn’t remember starting any fires and had no reason to start fires.” She also asked to speak with a therapist and wanted to be transferred to the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs.

Sleath is being held in the Missoula County Detention Center and has asked for a public defender.