Duluth landlord charged with setting fire to own property

"We Didn't Start the Fire" was blaring from the apartment when crews arrived.

File: Duluth Fire Engine
The Duluth Fire Department’s Engine 1 leaves headquarters.
Steve Kuchera / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — A Lincoln Park landlord allegedly doused his own duplex with gasoline and set it ablaze, blasting Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" as first responders arrived.

Travis Lee Carlson, 37, was charged Tuesday in State District Court with first-degree arson following Thursday's fire at 2402 W. Fourth St. Carlson owns the duplex, according to property records, and authorities said he alerted other tenants to the blaze before leaving.

Travis Lee Carlson.jpg
Travis Lee Carlson

St. Louis County prosecutor Vicky Wanta indicated there may be "some mental health or drug-related concerns regarding the defendant's behavior."

The fire was reported in Carlson's upstairs unit just after 4 a.m. A criminal complaint states he had left by the time fire crews and police officers arrived, but the 1989 hit was "blaring" from the upper apartment.

A downstairs tenant reported that he awoke around 3 or 3:30 a.m. and heard Carlson "smashing glass and breaking things" for some 20 minutes. The landlord then knocked on his door and told him, "The house is on fire," according to the complaint.


A neighbor also called 911 to report that he saw Carlson wearing a helmet and smashing his own windows around 3:30 a.m. The man told police he saw Carlson under his truck with gas cans, going in and out of the house before he saw "a flash like a fireball come from the upstairs apartment."

The complaint states that investigators found a hole in the gas tank of Carlson's truck, with a drill and gas can lids on the ground nearby. Traces of a burned accelerant were found on furniture, flooring and walls throughout his apartment, and several wires were pulled out of the electrical panel in the basement.

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Carlson was arrested by the Duluth Police Department the next day. He reportedly had fresh burns to his legs and arms.

The Duluth Fire Department said three people and one cat were living at the duplex. No additional injuries were reported to residents or firefighters, though the tenants were displaced and were receiving assistance from the American Red Cross. Damage to the structure and contents was estimated at $25,000.

Carlson has four convictions for impaired driving since 2013 and he remains on supervised probation. He could expect to face upward of four years in prison under state guidelines if convicted of first-degree arson.

Judge David Johnson granted Wanta's request to set bail at $75,000.

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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