West-central Minnesota man suspected of setting bridge fire faces 3 felonies

A fire burns on a bridge on County Highway 41 near Star Lake in Dent, Minn., in the early morning of Sunday, Sept. 6. Submitted photo
Submitted photo

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — A Dent man has been charged in connection to a bridge fire over the weekend near Star Lake along Highway 41 in west-central Minnesota.

Ryan Curtis Johnson, 42, appeared Wednesday, Sept. 9, in Otter Tail County District Court on three felony counts: arson, possessing ammunition or a firearm after being convicted of a violent crime, and possessing, making, transporting or storing an explosive or incendiary device.

Johnson was arrested near Detroit Lakes after the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office received a report of arson around 12:10 a.m. Sunday at a wooden bridge that links the west and east sides of Star Lake.

According to court documents:

Investigators found several 20- and 30-pound propane cylinders under the bridge, and one that appeared to have exploded was floating in the water. The area smelled of gasoline.


One person found a matchbook lying in the road near the bridge.

Witnesses told officers they had suspicions about Johnson starting the fire. Johnson, who lives near the bridge, was going through a divorce and had been acting erratically.

They also noted Johnson was upset that his dog had been hit and killed by a vehicle on Highway 41, something he expressed in several Facebook messages.

One witness said they heard the defendant say he was “going to do something crazy,” and another person heard Johnson make comments about blowing up the bridge near his house.

Johnson told investigators he had nothing to do with the bridge fire, according to court documents. Court records did not list an attorney for him as of Wednesday.

During a search of Johnson’s home, deputies reported finding ammunition, a shotgun, marijuana and drug paraphernalia, court documents said. It doesn’t appear Johnson has been charged with any drug crimes connected to the search.

Johnson has burglary, theft and threat convictions on his record. His most recent charge was a felony controlled substance conviction in Lake County in 2000.

Court records did not list an attorney for Johnson. He is being held on a $200,000 bond at the Otter Tail County Jail.


Dent is about 25 miles south of Detroit Lakes and about 8 miles northeast of the Star Lake bridge.

Johnson, Ryan.jpg
Ryan Curtis Johnson

Johnson, Ryan.jpg
Ryan Curtis Johnson

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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