"It gives you a track like fingerprints."
-Arson investigator Donald Dillard on the use of
gasoline to spark fires
By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer
A fire that destroyed two yurts in the Boulder Mountains on April 2 was
ignited intentionally, investigators have concluded.
That determination was reached in a report released to local police
agencies yesterday by the Idaho State Fire Marshals office in Boise.
The yurts were located one and one-half miles up Boulder Creek, about 10
miles north of Ketchum.
Owned by Sun Valley Trekking Co., the yurts were connected by a walkway to
create one structure. The companys co-owner, Bob Jonas, placed their value at about
Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said during a press conference Monday
that investigators had ruled the fire constituted an arson case because investigators
found two points of ignition.
In an interview yesterday, assistant state fire marshal Donald Dillard
said he spent four to five hours at the site on Monday, April 3, and had determined how
the fire was started. He would not elaborate.
Thus far, Dillard said, no material recovered from the fire scene has been
forwarded to the state forensic lab in Pocatello. Some items from the scene, however, were
forwarded to Femling.
Dillard, who has been an arson investigator since 1982, said the initial
investigation was difficult because the site wasnt secured when he arrived.
Dillards three-page, single-spaced arson report was forwarded to the
sheriffs office Tuesday morning.
Determining how the fire occurred, Dillard said, "was not really
Without commenting specifically on the nature of the fires
accelerant, Dillard said "only a crazy person" uses gasoline because of the
ability of skilled forensic investigators to trace the fuel.
"It gives you a track like fingerprints," he said.
Yurt co-owner Jonas said six cans of camp-stove fuel were missing from the
Now that the fire has been ruled an arson, it will be the job of the
sheriffs office to solve it. Acknowledging that "arson is one of the more
difficult crimes to solve," Femling said he is hoping to obtain information from the
Up to $4,500 in reward money has been posted for information helping in
the investigation. The reward consists of up to $2,500 from the U.S. Forest Service,
depending on the quality of information; $1,000 from the Idaho State Snowmobile
Association; and $1,000 from the local Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance.
The fire appears to have started shortly before 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, April
In an interview, Sun Valley resident Chuck Bohlke said he was skiing at
about that time north of Murphys bridge, on the west side of Highway 75, when he
heard an explosion in the area of the yurts. He said he looked in that direction and saw
"It was pretty loud," Bohlke said. "Certainly loud enough
to get my attention. The smoke was pretty intense."
Bohlke said he went to a telephone and called the sheriffs office.
Femling said at the press conference that his deputies were busy at the time and did not
get to the scene that evening.
The charred site was discovered Monday morning by Ketchum skier Carl
Praeger, who contacted the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters.
Femling said the noise heard by Bohlke was most likely caused by an
exploding fire extinguisher in one of the yurts.
Femling said members of a group of 12 people who spent Saturday night in
the yurts were not being viewed as suspects. He said that due to heavy use of the yurts,
ski, foot and snowmobile tracks there are not of much use in the investigation.