Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Arson Suspected in Apartment Fire


Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Missoula County Sheriff's Department Sergeant Robert Parcell pointing out where the fire burned on the exterior of the south end of the building to Deputy Tyler Robinson. The fire was reported just before 11 a.m. Sunday morning, Jan. 3 at the apartment complex on SOS Road in Seeley Lake.

SEELEY LAKE – Seeley Lake volunteer firefighters responded to an apartment fire at 145 SOS Road in Seeley Lake Jan. 3. The three-unit complex was vacant when the fire started. While the State Fire Marshal is still working on the investigation, Missoula County Sheriff's Sergeant Robert Parcell said it is a "probable arson."

A neighbor called in the fire just before 11 a.m. Sunday morning. Seeley Lake Fire Chief Bob Vanden Heuvel was on scene in six minutes followed by the structure engine three minutes later and a second engine with three more volunteers.

When Chief Vanden Heuvel arrived, there were no vehicles parked in front of the three-unit apartment complex. He was able to quickly confirm the building was unoccupied after pounding on doors and windows and seeing that the main apartments were empty of furniture and other possessions.

Chief Vanden Heuvel said that there were smoke and flames seen on the exterior of the south end of the building and moderate smoke coming out of the eaves on the north end.

The first engine hooked to a hydrant 200 feet away and volunteer Kristy Pohlman was able to quickly extinguish the exterior flames that had busted out windows. Captain Shawn Ellinghouse and volunteer Michael Triplett put on their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and made an interior attack.

"It was a light interior attack," said Chief Vanden Heuvel. "They gained access to the attic through the main room [with the fire] and using an inch and a half nozzle stopped the fire progress [in the attic] with a thermal and steam conversion [drops the temperature and raising the humidity]."

After less than 30 minutes on scene, the volunteers had the fire controlled. According to Vanden Heuvel, firefighters contained the fire to the southwest apartment and the attic area. They were able to keep the fire out of the southeast unit where a new renter had started to move in their possessions but it did sustain some smoke and water damage. The north apartment sustained mild to moderate smoke damage.

Chief Vanden Heuvel said the cause of the fire was suspicious so he requested the State Fire Marshal and local law enforcement to investigate.

Sgt. Parcell said, "All three sets of occupants were evicted. It gives us a place to start. There were evictions involved and then shortly after it goes unoccupied, a fire starts." He continued, "The cause was non-accidental. It looks like it was an on-purpose event." No other information was released and the investigation is ongoing.

Firefighters remained on scene for several hours mopping up and Vanden Heuvel returned throughout the night and the next day to make sure nothing rekindled.

"All the volunteers were amazingly helpful," said Vanden Heuvel of the six volunteer firefighters and two support staff who responded. "It was cold dealing with frozen hoses and fingers when trying to roll and collect hose. I'm very impressed with the hard work put in to see [the incident] through."


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