Michael Stillman Maher's Facebook photos show him in a yellow-and-green wildland firefighter uniform, posing with Gov. John Hickenlooper and sitting in the pilot seat of a giant helicopter at the High Park Fire.
But Larimer County sheriff's officials say Maher was arrested early Sunday for impersonating a firefighter and stealing life-saving equipment from the crews that were really fighting the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.
The 30-year-old Denver resident had his first appearance in Larimer County court Monday. He's charged with impersonating fire or police officials, theft, obstructing fire or police officials and attempting to influence a public servant. His bond was set at $15,000.
Authorities said Maher's ruse unraveled Saturday night when he was contacted by a fire chief in the burn area. Maher "appeared to have phony firefighter credentials" and was driving a silver Toyota Tacoma with a stolen government license plate and lettering on the window, Larimer County sheriff's spokesman John Schulz said.
Deputies tracked him down at a Laporte bar later that night and found stolen firefighter gear in his pickup along with a handgun, Schulz said.
Maher's Facebook page says he's an environmental consultant, who attended the University of Colorado in Denver. It also says that he worked for the U.S. Forest Service and photos show him wearing a Forest Service uniform and driving the agency's trucks.
A Forest Service spokesman told 7NEWS Monday that Maher worked one season as a seasonal employee more than a year ago. Employees are supposed to return any Forest Service identification or uniforms when they leave the agency, the spokesman said.
But in a photo Maher posted on his Facebook page Saturday with the comment, "Me with the governor!!!," he is wearing a yellow-and-green wildland firefighter uniform and a radio harness while standing shoulder-to-shoulder grinning with Hickenlooper, who was visiting the High Park Fire command center with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In an apparent reference to Maher's arrest, someone posted a comment under the Facebook photo Monday saying, "Look him up today, it's a different story altogether."
Maher's "High Park Fire" photo album also shows scenes of a home burned to its foundations and deer standing in a scorched forest.
A photo posted on April 1 shows him standing in his firefighter uniform with a smoking forest behind him.
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said his agency has beefed up roving patrols and deployed surveillance equipment in the fire zone to catch anyone trying to sneak into the area and loot evacuated and damaged homes.
Smith said he didn't want to detail how Maher evaded roadblocks and entered the fire area, "because I know there are some other people out there who might try to be copycats and find a way into the fire."
"If someones sneaking around back there, we'll find them," Smith said.
Maher was charged with theft, because "he had essentially dressed out as a firefighter and he was taking
the supplies that were there for the fire personnel," Smith said. "That's enough to upset a lot of folks, that he would not only go in there, but take away some of these life-saving supplies for fire personnel."
This isn't Maher's first trouble with the law.
Maher's Colorado criminal history includes the following convictions:
--2004, Eagle County. Maher was charged with two felony counts, aggravated sexual assault on a child and sexual assault on a child. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sex assault charge, and the two felonies were dismissed. --2005, Eagle County. Maher was convicted of violating a protection order. --2010, Eagle County. Maher pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for discharging a firearm and false reporting of a crime. --2010, Garfield County. Maher was charged with DUI, but pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of driving while ability impaired.
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