Duluth man charged with arson in Hillside house fire

Witnesses said Nathan Allen Drift was acting erratically, smashing a TV with a sword, before starting his father's residence on fire.


A Duluth man allegedly started a bag of clothes on fire inside his father's house early Monday, causing an estimated $45,000 in damage and rendering the residence uninhabitable.

Authorities said 35-year-old Nathan Allen Drift started the blaze after a series of erratic actions that included breaking a television with a sword.

The fire was reported at 607 E. Ninth St., just after 1 a.m. Monday. It was contained to an upstairs bedroom, but the Duluth Fire Department reported that smoke damage was reported throughout the house.

According to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday, Drift was at the residence with his father and girlfriend and was suffering from apparent mental health issues. His girlfriend said that included extreme paranoia, with a belief that "everyone is watching him and that people are not who they say they are."

They brought Drift to Essentia's Miller-Dwan building, convincing him he needed mental health treatment. But he returned to the residence a few hours later, saying he did not need help, according to the complaint.


Drift's father and girlfriend told police that his behavior continued to be "volatile" — expressing a belief that he was Jesus and his girlfriend was the devil. At one point, they said, he broke the TV with a sword.

According to the complaint, Drift then threatened to kill his father if he did not get down on his knees and pray to him. When his father refused, Drift allegedly told them he would burn the house down with them inside.

Drift then went into a bathroom, emerging with a roll of toilet paper and flicking a lighter, the complaint states. His father and girlfriend then realized he had started a bag of clothes on fire. Due to heavy smoke, they were forced to leave the residence, along with two dogs, and call 911.

Firefighters were able to contain the blaze, and no one was injured, but extensive damage was reported to the room and contents. The fire was ruled a "mental health-related arson."

"This was a challenging call from both a law enforcement and firefighting perspective, which resulted in great collaboration between the two agencies," Assistant Fire Chief Clint Reff said in a statement.

Drift was arraigned Wednesday in State District Court in Duluth on felony charges of first-degree arson and threats of violence. Sixth Judicial District Judge Leslie Beiers set bail at $35,000.

Drift made headlines a decade ago when authorities claimed he tried to run down a student and school-resource officer in the parking lot at Duluth Central High School. Police said the November 2009 incident was prompted by alleged mistreatment of his then-fiancee's 16-year-old special-needs daughter.

But Drift and the girl testified that they were confronted in the incident by a 16-year-old boy who attacked their SUV with his fists and then picked up a brick in a threatening manner. A St. Louis County jury heard four days of testimony before acquitting Drift of attempted murder and assault charges .


Drift does have multiple convictions on his record, including several for burglary and domestic assault.

Nathan Alan Drift

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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