Two women, one of whom is of limited mobility, were lucky to escape a Monday house fire on 6115 Road that investigators allege was deliberately set.
The suspect, Steven L. Gonzales, was arrested at a neighbor’s property. He was held on suspicion of first-degree arson and two counts of reckless endangerment. Formal charges are pending.
“Everyone’s safe. That’s what counts,” Montrose County Sheriff’s Lt. Ty Cox said Tuesday.
Deputies responded to the home initially on reports of a disturbance, based on what an emergency dispatcher was hearing – two female voices and a male voice; crashing sounds, and a woman saying they needed water.
Upon arrival, Deputy Sarah Belcher found smoke filling the air and two women in a parked vehicle, who told them Gonzales lived in the home but had left on foot.
Concerned for his safety, Belcher got permission to go inside, but could not find anyone.
What she did find: a closed door, its edges blackening from fire behind it, along with the tell-tale orange glow of flames, plus smoke heavy in the residence.
Belcher and other deputies cleared the home and got out quickly, with Belcher telling the women they needed to move because the fire was spreading. She ultimately took them in her patrol unit to the sheriff’s office for assistance from a victim’s advocate.
The women were too distraught to fill out written statement forms, but told Belcher what happened.
According to Gonzales’ affidavit, the homeowner woke up to hear her sister shouting hysterically. When she got up to check her sister, who has difficulty walking, the woman saw Gonzales leaving the home and, upon glancing into his room, saw an armchair on fire.
She told her sister to leave and tried to beat out the fire with a mop, but gave up when it spread to the mattress, “shooting” its way. With the flames moving too fast, she helped her sister outside.
The woman’s sister was identified as Gonzales’ mother and said she had recently moved into the home. She told investigators that Gonzales came out of his room and told her to get up; when she declined, citing tiredness, he began turning on all the lights.
That’s when she saw Gonzales had a container in his hand that she associated with an accelerant, per the affidavit. He ignored her when she asked what he was doing, and went back into his room, the document says.
A short time later, the woman spotted flames and began screaming for her sister; due to her physical impairment, she could not make her way to her sister’s room.
The Olathe Fire Protection District extinguished the fire, but the home was heavily damaged.
As the fire was being brought under control, a man living nearby came and told them someone had just run into his yard, identifying him as his neighbor from across the street.
Deputies found Gonzales there and arrested him.
One of the witnesses told deputies that she suspected Gonzales had been using drugs; he “seemed mentally altered and his behavior was different from how he normally is,” Belcher wrote in the affidavit.
Cox said a motive has not been determined. Gonzales declined to say anything other than that he had a broken toe; he was taken to the hospital and then to jail.
The online version of this story has been corrected to reflect Olathe Fire Protection District as the responding fire agency. Montrose Fire Protection District assisted with the investigation.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.