Friday, February 9, 2007

Arson suspected in Hailey blaze

Investigation of duplex fire turned over to police

Express Staff Writer

Fire investigators looking into the blaze that scorched this Willow Drive duplex in Hailey?s Woodside neighborhood last Sunday believe the fire may have been intentionally started. Because of this, responsibility for the arson investigation has now been turned over the Hailey Police Department. Photo by David N. Seelig

An investigation into last Sunday's duplex fire on Willow Drive in Hailey's Woodside neighborhood has been handed over to the city Police Department because investigators determined the blaze may have been arson-caused.

On Thursday, Hailey Police Chief Brian McNary confirmed an officer from his department has assumed the lead role in the ongoing investigation.

Lt. David Stellers is in charge of the fire investigation and should have a determination about the cause of the blaze sometime later this weekend, McNary said. Having the Police Department take the lead in suspected arson cases is standard procedure.

"They (the Hailey Fire Department) turn it over to us," McNary said, "and then we'll turn it over to the prosecutor."

McNary declined to comment on any of the specifics of the investigation, saying more information should be available by Monday.

"I'm just trying to determine the cause of why it burned," he said.

The late morning duplex fire on Sunday, Feb. 4, completely destroyed one bedroom and its contents and caused extensive damage throughout the remainder of the residence's second story.

Firefighters from Hailey Fire Department, Wood River Fire & Rescue and the Bellevue Fire Department responded to the emergency call. A total of 19 firefighters along with four trucks and two ambulances were involved in the response.

The initial call for the fire came into to Blaine County dispatch at 11:38 a.m.

Once on the scene, firefighters quickly doused the flames. The fire was declared under control by 11:50 a.m., and the last firefighters left the scene at 2:19 p.m.

The duplex's two occupants reportedly suffered from smoke inhalation. One of those individuals was transported to St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center before being treated and released. The other patient was treated and released at the scene of the fire.

Earlier this week, investigators narrowed the likely cause of the fire down to just two possibilities, accidental or incendiary, Hailey Assistant Fire Chief Carl Hjelm said Wednesday.

Based on the results of the investigation, however, investigators are leaning towards the latter of the two, he said.

"The more possible cause is the incendiary (intentionally-caused) fire," Hjelm said.

The possibility of arson aside, one bright note did come out of the duplex fire.

While on the scene of the blaze, firefighters were told that three dogs remained inside the home. Inside, the firefighters found the dogs and brought them outside.

One of the dogs lost consciousness as it was being carried. Removing his own breathing apparatus, Matt Lutz, a senior engineer with Wood River Fire & Rescue, revived the dog with mouth-to-nose resuscitation, Hjelm said.

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