SKOWHEGAN — A Water Street man entered a plea of no contest Wednesday to an arson charge for setting a fire that damaged his apartment house Oct. 26 and sent a firefighter to the hospital.

Peter E. Gary, 63, was charged with setting the fire in his apartment, and with three other minor charges involving his threat to attack firefighters with a shank fashioned from a toothbrush and refusing to sign a summons. By entering a no-contest plea, a defendant admits that the state has enough evidence to convict him and is not disputing the charge. The plea results in a conviction.

Skowhegan District Court Judge Andrew Benson advised Gary on Wednesday that he could face up to 30 years in prison with the conviction. Gary said he understood.

In a plea agreement with the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office, Gary will be given a sentence of 10 years in prison, with all but two years suspended, to be followed by four years of probation. Sentencing on the charges will be Sept. 21. Gary remains at the Somerset County Jail, unable to make bail.

The 11-unit apartment house at 378 Water St., opposite Coburn Park, was evacuated during the fire.

Gary was indicted on the arson charge by a Somerset County grand jury in May.

The fire was contained to Gary’s apartment, and no other residents in the building were hurt. Gary suffered smoke inhalation and was released later from the hospital.

Fire department officials said Gary became combative with firefighters who were trying to put out the fire.

Firefighter Ty Strout, one of two who went into Gary’s apartment to investigate the fire and was confronted by Gary, was taken to the hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation.

Dustin Tibbetts, the son of building owners Wayne and Becky Tibbetts, said at the fire scene that Gary had been causing trouble there for a couple of weeks, but they had not been able to evict him.

On Oct. 17, Tibbetts said, Gary broke all the windows in his apartment and a window in the apartment next door. Tibbetts said he put plastic over the broken windows and finally put particle board over the windows. Tibbetts said it appeared Gary had assembled a pile of cornstarch, baking soda and other “white stuff” on the kitchen floor and set it on fire, creating thick smoke and flames.

Gary also must undergo evaluation and treatment and must take all of his prescribed medication, according to the plea agreement. He is on medication that assists him in his mental acuity, his court-appointed lawyer, John Martin, told the judge.

Assistant District Attorney Joelle Pratt told the judge that Gary initially had been committed involuntarily to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta and later voluntarily chose to remain there until March. He was deemed competent to stand trial.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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