Investigators back off arson conclusion, say fatal fire is suspicious

  • Tue Sep 30th, 2008 7:01pm
  • News

By Yoshiaki Nohara, Herald writer, and Alejandro Dominguez, of La Raza del Noroeste

SNOHOMISH – A fire that killed four people early this morning at a mobile home park is being investigated as suspicious, adding pain to the victims’ family and friends.

A specially trained dog detected signs of a flammable accelerant at the scene, but it is too early to know whether the blaze that gutted the mobile home was deliberately set, officials said at an afternoon press conference.

“We owe to the family and the community as complete information as possible,” Snohomish Police Sgt. Jeff Shelton said. “We use everything we can.”

It’s too soon to rule the suspicion as arson, which was what officials announced at an earlier press conference. Household chemicals could be what the dog sniffed, said Snohomish Police Chief John Turner.

The fire broke out just before 7 a.m. in a unit at the Snohomish Mobile Home and RV Park in the 1300 block of Avenue D.

The dead included a woman, her sister and her two daughters, officials said.

Miguel Angel Montano Reynaga said he is the brother of one of the dead women, who were from Jalisco, Mexico.

He identified the dead as Sandra Maria Montano, 28; and her sister, Claudia Montano, 25. The other victims are Sandra Maria Montano’s daughters, Ashley, 7, and Yareli, 4.

The four were found in a bedroom of the building.

A team made up of investigators from multiple agencies, including the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Washington State Patrol, is investigating the incident.

Family and friends of the victims arrived at the scene in the early afternoon.

Their disbelief and shock was apparent.

The four women just moved into the mobile home on Friday, park manager Sherree Simpson said. They were still moving their belongings in over the weekend. “It’s pretty devastating. They haven’t been here for a long time but it doesn’t matter,” Simpson said. “They were small children.”

The family just picked up the registration packet from the Snohomish School District for the older girl to attend Riverview Elementary School, said J.Marie Riche, communication director for the school district.

“This is hard for folks in school and anyone who has met the family,” Riche said.

The fire erupted at 6:57 a.m. Snohomish Fire Deputy Chief Ron Simmons said. Firefighters arrived at the scene just across Avenue D from the fire station two minutes later.

No firefighters were injured in the blaze, which was put out at 7:23 a.m., Simmons said.

The mobile home park is on the north end of town and is full of older, single-wide homes. There are 44-units on the property.

“These mobile homes are tight. We had concern for many years,” Simmons said, adding that he plans to talk to city officials about how to prevent another fire from happening at the mobile home park.

Katharine Ryan and Dean Prigg, of Snohomish, just stepped out of a grocery store around 6:45 a.m. when they saw smoke rising across Avenue D. The couple rushed to the mobile home park, and a big flame went up into the sky.

“We were watching because by the time we got there. There was no way to get close,” Ryan said.

At first, the couple figured – and hoped – that nobody was caught in the burning building. Later, they learned that four people died.

“It suddenly became a very sad tragedy,” Prigg said.

Prigg and Ryan stayed at the scene for a few hours after crews put out the fire.

“I feel pretty (awful) and helpless,” Ryan said. “What can I do?”

Reporter Diana Hefley contributed to this report. Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.