Investigators offer reward in 'very suspicious' Vancouver fire

By Mark Bowder, Columbian assistant metro editor


Suspicious fire

Officials are offering a $10,000 reward as they seek the public's help investigating a "very suspicious" fire that destroyed a commercial building Friday in the Burton neighborhood of Vancouver.

Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said the cash reward is being offered by the Arson Alarm Foundation and the Vancouver Fire Arson Team for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the blaze.

Scarpelli said the team is specifically looking for information about two persons of interest in the case.

The first person of interest is a white male, 16 to 17 years old, 5-foot-8, weighing about 130 pounds and with dark hair in a buzz cut. He was last seen wearing a light blue T-shirt, tan knee length shorts and white shoes. He was holding a skateboard.

The second person of interest is also a white male, 16 to 17 years old, 5-foot-9 to 6 feet tall, with brownish blond collar-length hair. He was last seen wearing a gray T-shirt, blue jeans and dark shoes. He was pushing a yellow and white mountain bike.

The 5:55 p.m. fire destroyed a vacant commercial building at 12101 N.E. 28th St., doing at least $200,000 damage, Scarpelli said.

Witnesses interviewed after the blaze reported seeing two men, one of whom was carrying what appeared to be a gas canister, jump a fence separating the building from the school a few minutes before the fire broke out.

One witness said one of the men who jumped the fence made a crude gesture toward one witness before running away.

The exact cause for the fire has not been released, but Scarpelli said the blaze was "very suspicious" and is being investigated by the Vancouver Fire Arson Team, with assistance from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and an arson K-9 team from the Portland Fire Bureau.

Scarpelli said anyone with information regarding the two persons of interest or the fire in general can call the Vancouver Fire Arson team at any time day or night at 360-607-7991, or they can call 911 and ask for the Vancouver on-duty fire marshal.

There is a 33-percent arrest and conviction rate on arson fires in Vancouver, Scarpelli said, compared with about 8 percent nationwide.