The remains of a residence that was damaged by fire Jan. 17 on Cherrywood Lane in Readfield. Joseph McLaughlin, 38, has been arrested and charged with arson and aggravated cruelty to animals in connection with the incident. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

READFIELD – A Readfield man has been arrested in relation to the fire on Cherrywood Lane that consumed a house, barn and camper that he owned.

Joseph McLaughlin, 38, was charged with arson and aggravated cruelty to animals after he allegedly set the three structures on fire on Jan. 17 and endangered a dog by locking it in one of them.

The responding authorities noted concern for McLaughlin’s mental health as he claimed his actions were an order from God, according to court records detailing his arrest.

Police were familiar with McLaughlin as they had dropped by a day prior to conduct a welfare check, Isaiah C. Peppard, an investigator with the Office of Maine State Fire Marshal, wrote in an affidavit.

“It was known to first responder that Joseph has dealt with mental health issues in the past,” Peppard wrote.

Members of the Winthrop Police Department and Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office found McLaughlin on the property when they responded to the fire. He was placed in protective custody and later transferred to a hospital to be examined for hypothermia and to receive a mental health evaluation.


When asked about the fire, McLaughlin laid out the details of his deeds voluntarily. Inside the house, he lit fire to clothes and pillows, he said, and then he moved to the barn where he set fire to a paper bag sitting in the trash in the center of the building.

In the camper, McLaughlin lit a match to numerous items that were on the couch but couldn’t recall what those items were. He also locked his black dog in the camper and recalled hearing the dog cry and whine until the camper was on fire. The dog was later rescued.

Why did he do it? He claims God asked him to, as “they were starting over so he needed to clear the land to do this.”

McLaughlin added that he did not intend to hurt anyone in the fires, after he admitted he would burn down the white house across the road if it were empty, as he believed the occupant to be a witch who had placed a curse on him when he first moved in.

Fire investigators found the scene and origin of the fire in the house to be consistent with what McLaughlin described. The extent of damage in the barn and the camper, however, made it difficult to confirm the location from where the fire originated.

McLaughlin was arrested and transported to the Kennebec County jail. Hillary Knight has been assigned as his court-appointed attorney and his bail has been set at $25,000. He has also been barred from possessing any animals, firearms or incendiary devices.

McLaughlin was previously arrested and charged with one count of domestic violence assault in May 2023.

He is expected to make his next court appearance on April 23.

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