On Nov. 4, the home at 711 Rickety Road in Somerset burned to the ground around 5 a.m. The results of the fire investigation listed the cause as “undetermined” but the residents believe it was a case of arson.
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James Collinson, the homeowner, and his live-in girlfriend, Lela Hayes, said they lost his house — a double-wide trailer — and their two dogs in the fire. The two had left at about 4 a.m. that morning, Collinson said, and about an hour later, their neighbors a quarter-mile away heard “three loud explosions.” Metal chunks were found 30 feet away from the home. A gas can that had been full was only a quarter full when they returned, he said.
A quad parked on the property burned, but the car separating the quad from the house did not. The tires did not blow up, he said, nor did a propane tank nearby.
Collinson and Hayes blame Hayes’ ex, who she was trying to get a restraining order on. Five days after she was in court explaining to a judge that she had proof her ex had left messages on Collinson and Hayes’ answering machine, their home burned to the ground.
Diamond Springs Fire Assistant Chief Bryan Ransdell, who helped with the investigation, noted that the cause was undetermined. “Arson isn’t arson until it’s determined in a court of law,” he said. “A lot of things were not up to code.” Collinson and Hayes had what they said was a legal medical marijuana grow, but Ransell said the wiring to it was not to code, and flammable liquids had been stored around the home. “There was no demarcation of foul play,” he concluded, unable to pinpoint a sole cause. “There was no telltale sign.”
In his report, included in the final overall fire report, he expands on this and states that, “Based on the totality of fire indicators, the fire origin was undetermined. There were no demarcation marks or other indicators around or in the remains of the structure that demonstrated this fire was suspicious or accidental in nature. There were aerosol cans located all around the property and two fuel container nearby the structure, but there were no burn patterns or other indicators that pointed to these accelerants as contributors to the origin of cause.” He also noted the extension cords “strewn throughout the property” supplying current to the shed and class C motorhome. “None of these electrical sources were to code.”
Ransdell also mentioned the issue with the owners and their neighbors. “The homeowner stated there was an easement issue ongoing with the neighbors, hence that could be a possible scenario to arson. We did not find any evidence to support this statement and this information was disclosed to the (El Dorado County Sheriff’s) sergeant on scene,” he said.
There were three interviews Ransdell attempted to conduct, with two successes. The first was Pioneer Fire Protection Districit Battalion Chief Jack Daniels. Daniels said he had received information from law enforcement that “the structure could have been used as a meth lab.” However, Ransdell added, “There was no evidence of a meth lab within the area of the burn during the investigation.”
The second interview was with Collinson and Hayes. They said they had taken a friend back to Sacramento around 3:30 a.m. Neither of the two left any appliances on, save for the wood stove, which had been cleaned in the previous two months. Collinson did not believe it could be the cause of the fire. Collinson noted the easement issue with his neighbor. Ransdell tried to interview the neighbor but she was not home.
In between the two successful interviews, Ransdell saw an EDSO deputy interviewing another resident of the property. Later, he said, the man was was gone. When he asked officers where the man was, Ransdell learned that the man had been arrested. He was not given another opportunity to interview the man, who he later learned lived in the motor home.
Rob Combs, Diamond Springs Fire chief, noted that there was a “sordid past” with the residence and their department only assisted with Pioneer Fire’s investigation.
The report on the fire by Daniels reveals only a bit more about the incident. The fire started at 5 a.m.; it was controlled at just after 10 a.m. It took about 20 minutes for engines to arrive — something Collinson mentioned and was not pleased with. The end of the incident came as “extinguishment by fire.”
By the time Engine 38 arrived, the roof had collapsed and the structure was 90 percent engulfed in flames. A second outbuilding was fully involved, as was the ATV.
Daniels spoke with a caretaker who “had stated that all the occupants were at Red Hawk Casino and the building was not occupied.”
An hour after arrival, the fire was under control; three hours later, it was extinguished. The home was a total loss.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.