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Arson might be cause of Langley fire

Robin Koeller stands outside the family’s gutted metal garage, which apparently had been deliberately set on fire. “We can’t figure out who would do it,” she said. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Robin Koeller stands outside the family’s gutted metal garage, which apparently had been deliberately set on fire. “We can’t figure out who would do it,” she said.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

Robin and Jerry Koeller would love to know who set their garage on fire.

“We just don’t have this kind of incident on the island — at least not at this end,” Robin Koeller said.

“I’d sure like to catch somebody,” Jerry Koeller said. “That would be really nice.”

The Koellers and their 15-year-old daughter were asleep about 6 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, at their home on six acres in the Sandy Point area, when their 10-month-old poodle Lily began to bark.

Jerry Koeller said he got up to let the dog out. Then he smelled smoke, and saw that the family’s 20-by-30-foot metal garage that was being used as a storage shed about 100 feet from the house was ablaze.

Although the fire was mostly inside the building, flames were licking the exterior when he went outside, Jerry Koeller said. Smoke was billowing, and paint was blistering.

“It was a really hot fire,” his wife said. “It was more melty than sparky.”

The Koellers believes someone opened the small door on the house side of the garage and tossed in something flammable.

Inside the building were tools, garden tools, lawn tractors and mowers, bicycles, antiques, furniture, garden chemicals, paint and a can of gasoline.

Fire officials, however, said there were no flammables stored in the corner where the fire started, only some plastic shelves and potting materials.

Nothing appeared missing.

“As far as we know, they didn’t take anything,” Robin Koeller said.

But almost everything inside was ruined, along with the building itself, which was completely gutted, its vehicle door now warped and unable to close.

The smell of burned material is nearly overpowering.

Outside, charred and twisted remains of much of the building’s contents were scattered, pending the conclusion of the investigation. The couple can’t wait to clear away the debris.

The Koellers said that with everything taken together, the loss could be as much as $30,000.

Only a couple of bales of hay at the other end of the building from where the fire started appeared to have been spared. The hay was for the family’s three goats, kept in a nearby pen.

The Koellers called the fire department as soon as they spotted the flames.

A unit from Island County Fire District 3 arrived quickly, and the fire was snuffed in less than a minute, said Deputy Chief Jon Beck. He said fire officials listed the cause of the blaze as undetermined, but suspicious.

The case was turned over to the Island County Sheriff’s Office, Beck said.

The Koellers said Monday that they delayed talking about the incident so as not to hamper the investigation, but that so far, there appears to be no suspects.

The couple said that other than their dog’s barking, they heard nothing and saw no one before the fire was discovered, although it was still fully dark at the time.

They said they had detected no suspicious activity in the days leading up to the fire, but that it seemed apparent that whoever set it knew the layout of the property.

An adjacent metal gate was left ajar, and a wooden gate leading to the goat pen was pried open.

“It had to have been someone who had been here before,” Robin Koeller said. “They tried to let the goats out, too, but the goats stayed put, because they like where they live.”

The goats were found huddling at the far end of their pen, probably trying to get away from the fire, she added.

The Koellers say the whole incident is unsettling because of its apparent randomness, and the proximity to the main house, where the family was sleeping. She said neighbors could offer no clues.

Robin Koeller said crime has been all but unheard of in the neighborhood, although a couple of car prowls were reported nearby on the same night as the fire, she added.

Robin Koeller, 41, operates a home marketing business, and her husband, 63, is retired. Their house has been for sale for some time, but they said they plan to stay in the area, perhaps building a new house on another part of their property.

The couple is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.

“We can’t figure out who would do it,” Robin Koeller said. “We don’t have any enemies. We get along with everybody.”

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