Beal sentenced to 21 months in prison for setting string of fires in 2016-17

GUELPH – The man who set a string of fires in Erin and Guelph-Eramosa in 2016 and 2017, has been sentenced.

Justin Beal, 31, was sentenced on Jan. 14 by Justice Bruce Durno in Guelph’s Superior Court.

He will serve 21 months in prison, 36 months of probation and must pay $39,000 in restitution.

The Rockwood man was found guilty of five counts of arson in December 2019 and had a pre-sentencing hearing in March 2020, but his sentencing was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beal had previously pleaded not guilty to seven counts of arson.

There were 27 suspicious fires reported in Wellington County in 2016 and 2017 – most in abandoned buildings – and no one was injured or died in the fires.

The first was on Oct. 14, 2016 at 5230 3rd Line in Guelph-Eramosa, when Beal threw a lit cigarette into a bush outside an abandoned dwelling and fire eventually engulfed the house.

Beal entered the house searching for people and had to jump from a second storey window to escape.

The other fires Beal was found guilty of setting include:

  • Oct. 19, 2016 at 5292 Third Line, Guelph-Eramosa;
  • Feb. 3, 2017 at 6873 Highway 7, Guelph-Eramosa;
  • June 25, 2017 on 3rd Line near Sideroad 10, Erin; and
  • June 25, 2017 at 5324 Wellington Road 125, Erin.

Guelph-Eramosa Mayor Chris White had submitted a letter to the court stating how the stress and worry of the fires affected the entire community.

Fear was palpable and the danger was very real to firefighters called to put out the blazes, White stated in his letter.

Crown Attorney Judith MacDonald had called for a sentence of two years less a day, plus three years probation and restitution of $45,000.

Beal’s lawyer Robbie Tsang sought a sentence of 18 months.

Tsang had told the court that Beal has ADHD, ADD and Tourette syndrome.

In a statement to police on Oct. 27, 2017 Beal said he had a fetish for lighting fires and that lighting them helped as a “stress relief” from personal issues such as dealing with personal debt and family issues.

Beal turned himself in to police in 2017 when he realized he was putting firefighters in danger.

When on probation, Beal is also not to not possess incendiary devices like lighters and matches.