News

Reward posted for arsonists

The Oak Harbor Police and Fire departments are offering a $1,000 reward for any information leading to the arrests of arsonists who started two fires, causing $80,000 in damages, in the early morning of June 13.

Just after midnight that Sunday, neighbors on SW Kalama Loop called resident Bruce Neil to let him know that his 2000 Dodge Dakota pickup with a new camper was on fire.

According to Battalion Chief Ray Merrill with the Oak Harbor Fire Department, the heat from the fire caused the relief valves on two propane tanks inside the camped to go off, shooting fire balls at a 1997 Jeep Cherokee and the attached garage of the house. The pickup, Jeep SUV and house were all ablaze when firefighters arrived.

The cause of the conflagration, Merrill said, was a definite case of arson. The fire was ignited inside the camp trailer, but he said the arsonists probably weren’t aware that the propane tanks were inside . The two vehicles were a total loss, while the damage to the house was repairable.

It took firefighters about 20 minutes to bring the fire under control. “It was a little tough because of the cedar shakes on the roof,” Merrill said, “and gasoline on the ground that kept reigniting.”

Shortly after the blaze was reported, police and fire officials got another call about a trash can on fire next to a vacant house just a couple blocks away on SW Barrington Drive. Neno Paulo Noriega, a local sailor, said he and a friend were driving by when they saw what looked like a bonfire from the distance.

“When we got closer, we saw two guys dressed in black cross in front of us,” he said. “Then we saw the trash can on fire, right next to the house.”

The two men jumped out of the car and pulled the melted plastic trash can away from the house and put the blaze out. They knocked on the door, but the house turned out to be empty.

Det. Carl Seim with the Oak Harbor police said the arsonists placed a gas can inside the trash can, put it next to the house and lit it on fire. He said investigators are convinced the same arsonists started both fires.

Nobody was injured in either blaze.

According to Seim, one witness saw two males in dark clothing running from the house fire on Kalama. They ran behind houses at the end of a cul-de-sac, then reappeared minutes later running across SW Barrington Drive to Kaleeton Loop. One of the males was wearing a “beany cap” and dark clothing and the other had on a dark hooded sweatshirt.

Another witness, Seim said, saw a group of four or five males carrying a red gas can in the area just minutes before the fires. The witnesses weren’t sure whether the potential suspects were adult men or teenagers.

Neither the detective nor the firefighter had any definite ideas about the arsonists’ motives, but Merrill did hazard a guess: “Simple disrespect for people’s property.”

According to Merrill, it’s been “a long time” since the last arson investigation in the city.

The police and fire department are both pitching in $500 for the reward. Anyone with information can contact the police department of 679-5551 or call 911.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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