Arson suspected in Sterling fire

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2006

Two unidentified men hastily drove away from a Sterling mobile home Wednesday as it burned in a fire suspected of being arson.

The 911 dispatch received a call from a man in a neighboring residence at 5:07 a.m. reporting the fire after he was drawn from his bed by an unusual sound, said Gary Hale, fire marshal for Central Emergency Services.

“He heard the sound of a ‘poof,’ but before that, his dog had been growling,” he said. “He heard the ‘poof,’ which didn’t sound right to him, so he got up and saw fire in the mobile home next door. And then as he’s talking to 911 dispatch, he saw movement.”

The neighbor distinguished the movement as two men jumping into a blue hatchback vehicle that then sped away, Hale said.

Other neighbors also reported hearing explosions. One said they heard first one, then two, then multiple explosions.

The mobile home at 35140 High Ave. had been unoccupied for several months and the owners, Lynda and Hugh Chumley, were in the process of selling it.

“It had belonged to a prior individual, but it went into repossession, and Mr. Chumley took it back,” Hale said. “He was actually in the process of making a sale to a neighbor across the street (when the fire occurred) ... so this is being treated as an act of arson.”

Although CES had the fire under control within approximately 30 minutes, the home was quickly consumed and could not be saved.

“Let’s just say it was an exterior attack because the trailer pretty much caved into itself, making it unsafe for any of our fire suppression people to even step into the structure,” Hale said.

One engine, three tankers, a medic unit, three command vehicles and 13 personnel responded to the fire.

Although investigators are still determining what caused the fire, Hale said it may have been some type of flammable liquid.

The 1,240-foot mobile home and its contents were worth an estimated $35,000.

Fire officials are looking for the two individuals who reportedly fled the scene. The blue hatchback reportedly had a different color trunk.

Anyone with additional information is asked to call troopers at 262-4453 or CES at 262-4792.

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