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UPDATED: Homeless man charged with arson in East Lyme fire

By Greg Smith

Published December 03. 2012 10:00AM   Updated December 04. 2012 9:09AM

East Lyme - Police have charged a 45-year-old homeless man with arson in connection with a fire late Saturday that burned the announcer's booth at the athletic fields of East Lyme Middle School, where the man was sleeping.

Gary Nelson, with no known address, was found hiding early Sunday morning by East Lyme police in the area of the fire. Police, who responded to the fire with firefighters shortly before midnight Saturday, discovered Nelson's charred bicycle near the scene of the fire, said East Lyme Police Sgt. Wilfred Blanchette.

Nelson admitted to investigators that he lit a fire inside the press box to stay warm but the fire had spread out of control, Blanchette said.

East Lyme Fire Marshal Richard Morris said the 10-foot-by-10-foot building, which is elevated off the ground, was a total loss. Sports equipment and an irrigation control panel also burned. The building is used for Little League games.

Dave Perry, Little League president, said the fire caused about $15,000 worth of damage. The building is insured but fundraising is in the works to help pay the insurance deductible, Perry said. Boys and girls ages 4 to 12 play in the league, he said.

Replacing the building will be a "big undertaking" because of the "significant amount of damage," Perry said.

"We're an all-volunteer organization and we rely on the community, which has been very supportive in the past," Perry said. "We can rebuild it. Even though this happened, thankfully (Nelson) was uninjured and didn't lose his life."

Firefighters from the Flanders and Niantic departments spent less than an hour extinguishing the blaze.

Held originally on a $25,000 cash bond, Nelson faces charges of third-degree arson, first-degree criminal trespass and first-degree criminal mischief. Nelson's bond was reduced to $10,000 during a Monday court appearance and his case was continued until Dec. 19.

No injuries were reported in the fire.

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