By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — A suspicious house fire was purposely set, investigators now say.
According to Ottumwa's fire marshal, Deputy Fire Chief Cory Benge, the structure fire on July 14 at 1630 Locust St. is officially ruled an arson. The Ottumwa Fire Department and the Ottumwa Police Department are seeking the public’s assistance in solving the crime.
Firefighters responded to 1630 E. Locust St. at 2 a.m. to find the entire back side of the house ablaze. There was extensive fire, smoke and water damage. No one was home.
The next day, Chief Tony Miller acknowledged the fire "may be suspicious," and that there would be an investigation. Benge, the city's main fire investigator, said he requested the Iowa State Fire Marshal's accelerant detection dog to help firefighters investigate the blaze.
"You could say that was one of the tools we used to figure this out," Benge said.
The conclusion of arson was announced Monday.
"We investigate every house fire," Benge said, adding that they are not necessarily looking for arson.
He called in the dog, he said, partly because evidence wasn't showing an accidental cause.
"Some fires are 'undetermined;' I have no idea how they started," Benge said, "But we always try to determine a cause."
This is the only intentionally set structure fire known in Ottumwa this year, but it's far from being the only house fire.
This arson represents Ottumwa's 30th structure fire in the first seven months of the year, an average of about four fires per month. In 2012, the city saw 34 structure fires or about three per month on average.
A reward is being offered for information which leads to an arrest. Call crime stoppers at 641-684-5555 or the Ottumwa Fire Department at 641-683-0666.
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.