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A former Heritage Christian School student accused of starting two fires at the private school said he was angry about being mistreated by students and staff at the school, new court documents say.

Charges filed Thursday in Gallatin County District Court against 24-year-old Zachary James Silflow offer new insight into why prosecutors say he set two fires at Heritage Christian, one in August 2012 and one late last month.

Silflow, who is facing two counts of felony arson and two counts of felony burglary, remains jailed on $500,000 bail. An initial appearance hearing has not been set.

According to charges filed by the Gallatin County Attorney’s Office:

On Aug. 24, 2012, at approximately 10:51 p.m., the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and Rae Sourdough Fire Department were dispatched to Heritage Christian School, located at 4310 Durston Road.

There was heavy smoke on the west side of the school and there was a glass door on that side of the building that had been broken with a large rock.

The most severe damage from the fire was in the school’s gymnasium on the northeast end of the bleachers and the south end of the stage. Items such as curtains, rugs, artificial plants, curtain stands and rods were found burned and charred in front of the east end of the bleachers.

An accelerant detection canine named Yancy from the Great Falls Fire Department searched the gym and alerted investigators to debris in front of the bleachers as well as a mat that had been removed from the weight room.

Yancy also alerted investigators to a red piece of plastic that was burned and suspected to be the remnants of a gas can.

Detectives interviewed several witnesses and potential suspects following the fire, but never identified the perpetrator.

On Oct. 24 of this year, first responders were called to another fire in the Heritage Christian School gym, this one at 5:09 a.m.

Again, investigators found a door with a broken window, this time on the south end of the building.

School administrator Gerry Goede provided investigators with surveillance footage that showed a man entering the school and igniting two separate fires in the gym.

Around 12:20 p.m. the day of the fire, detectives received a tip from a man who said Silflow had told him that he was upset with teachers and torched the school’s gym in 2012.

The man said he didn’t take Silflow seriously until the school was set on fire a second time and felt he needed to contact law enforcement.

Geode said Silflow was a former student who had left the school under “unusual circumstances” and resembled the man in the security footage.

Silflow was brought in to the Law and Justice Center where he agreed to talk to investigators.

While initially denying involvement in the fires, Silflow admitted he had been drinking at a friend’s house the night before and said he didn’t care for the school.

After being told that the school had surveillance footage, Silflow said that while drinking with his friend he was dwelling on how he was mistreated at the school and that teachers didn’t treat him very well.

Silflow said that morning, he went to the school and parked across the street. He got angry and threw a rock through a window at the school.

Silflow said he then wandered around for a while. He said he urinated on and near his old locker.

Eventually, Silflow said he noticed a gas can by a shed in the back. He took the gas can into the school and walked into the middle of the gym floor.

Silflow picked that spot because that was where “everybody (expletive) with” him, he said. He said he walked around the gym for a while, thinking about what he was doing, then “finally gave in” and started two fires before running out.

When asked about the fire two years ago, Siflow said he again was drinking and “pissed off” and drove by the school.

He couldn’t remember exactly where he was going, but said, “the anger just set it in again, and I couldn’t push it away, and, gave in, and there, you know, whoop de doo.”

Silflow couldn’t remember all the details of the 2012 fire, but believed he had a gas can in his vehicle and remembered breaking into the school. He said he stacked up material that was in the gym, such as fake trees, dumped gas on all of it and lit it on fire. Silflow said he couldn’t deal with his anger.

As part of the investigation, detectives collected a lighter Silflow said he used to start the latest fire as well as a jacket he said he wore while he set the blazes.

The estimated cost of damage in both fires was about $4.5 million.

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Whitney Bermes can be reached at or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.


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