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Crime & Courts

Troopers: Man charged with attempted murder for trying to burn down Kwethluk cabin with 4 inside

A Kwethluk man, his girlfriend and their two children escaped a fire through the window of their cabin Friday morning, when Alaska State Troopers say another man set the residence ablaze over an earlier dispute.

Eric Paul Nicolai, 24, is accused of arson and four counts of attempted murder in the case, according to court records. Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said nobody was injured in the fire.

An affidavit against Nicolai, written by trooper Joshua Rallo, said witnesses heard Nicolai say early Friday that "he was upset with (the victim) and wanted to kill him." Witnesses told troopers they saw Nicolai leaving the area of the cabin while carrying a fuel canister before the fire, which Peters said began at about 5 a.m.

"The fire was started at the only entrance/exit to the home," Rallo wrote. "(The residents) had to escape through a window that was broken out by a neighbor. The neighbor was awoken by the 'whoomph' sound of the fire being ignited."

Residents of Kwethluk, about 12 miles east of Bethel, tried to fight the fire but the cabin was a total loss, Peters said. The family has since received assistance from locals.

Rallo said that during a recorded interview, Nicolai admitted to starting the fire using gasoline and dried grass, and that he knew the man and his family were in the home at the time.

"Eric explained that he was upset with (the man) for 'talking smack' to him and that he had no choice but to do this to get back at him," Rallo wrote.

Nicolai was being held Tuesday at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center in Bethel, according to a statewide inmate database.

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