A homeless man is accused of intentionally setting fire to cardboard inside the elevator cars at the Murdock Building on Broadway in downtown Vancouver.
Matthew Glen Hervi, 36, appeared Tuesday via Zoom in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of second-degree arson in connection with the Feb. 20 fire.
Judge Gregory Gonzales set Hervi’s total bail at $23,000, which included another case; Hervi is set to be arraigned March 12, court records show.
Several callers reported seeing light smoke coming from the front of the seven-story building, 703 Broadway, which houses Columbia Credit Union and offices, and serves as a parking garage. The calls prompted a large response, with multiple fire crews dispatched shortly after 8 p.m. for a commercial structure fire.
The building’s sprinkler system had activated and contained the blaze until firefighters arrived, Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli previously told The Columbian.
Firefighters found fire in the elevator shaft near the first floor. Scarpelli said the blaze was determined to be arson, and estimated the property and contents loss to be $564,287.
Vancouver police were called about 9:20 p.m. to assist with the investigation. The lead fire marshal told police that passersby and the alarm company had called it in, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
About an hour later, Hervi reportedly walked to the Clark County Jail to turn himself in for a fire. However, Hervi was unable to “provide a competent statement about where, when, how or why the fire started and only mentioned something about a ‘clock tower,’ ” the affidavit reads. An officer took his photo in case something was found later.
On Feb. 22, police met with staff from Columbia Credit Union to review security cameras. A man matching Hervi’s description, based on the photos previously taken of him, was seen trying the building’s door handles about 45 minutes before the fire, court records say.
Additional footage later showed Hervi inside the building’s lobby for about 40 minutes. The footage then captured smoke and flames coming from the area Hervi was last seen. He then exits the building through the garage, according to court documents.
Hervi was interviewed Monday at the jail, where he was in custody on unrelated charges. He told police he used “cardboard or something” to start the fire but could not explain why. He said he was told to set the fire and mentioned needing protection from people outside. He also talked about Social Security and bones inside the building, as well as “licensing issues related to free music over the radio,” according to the affidavit.
The lead fire marshal found cardboard inside the elevator cars left behind from ongoing construction, court records say.