A 48-year-old man accused of starting a fire that burned down two South Whidbey houses was charged with arson in the first degree Monday.
The crime was charged as a domestic-violence-related count.
Blake Fountain was moved temporarily from the Island County Jail to a mental health facility in Sedro-Woolley, according to the Island County Prosecutor’s Office. At Fountain’s preliminary hearing Friday, Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock ordered that he be evaluated by a designated mental health professional for the purpose of determining whether he meets the criteria for a 72-hour involuntary civil commitment.
In the motion for the evaluation, Prosecutor Greg Banks wrote that Fountain suffered “an acute mental health crisis” days prior to the arson and told a paramedic at the scene that he intended to commit suicide. The police report, Banks wrote, “does not reveal any other likely motive to commit arson beyond a disturbed mind.”
Hancock set bail at $150,000.
If convicted of the charge, Fountain could face from 21 to 27 months in prison under the standard sentencing range.
Fountain allegedly burned Lynn and Roger Vehorns’ Useless Bay Colony home on Thursday morning after living in the house for about nine months. The ensuing fire, which reduced the Vehorn’s house to rubble, also destroyed the home of the Vehorn’s next door neighbor. A third house suffered a broken window.
Nobody was injured by the fires.
Fountain received a mental health evaluation on July 2 after telling coworkers about a bomb plot, according to a report by Sgt. Darren Crownover of the Island County Sheriff’s Office. He had also told one of the residents that he could smell a fire when there was none, the report states.
Rumors have also circulated on social media that Fountain was involved in gay conversion therapy at the behest of the Vehorns. Roger Vehorn denied the rumor in a phone interview Monday afternoon, saying, “That’s not true.”
“Blake is a new Christian,” Vehorn said. “In the past year, he has decided to become a Christian. He made a commitment. That’s all I have to say.”
Detective Ed Wallace also said an investigation has not uncovered any details to support the rumor.
“We haven’t heard anything about that,” Wallace said.
News of the homes burning down has also led to community-wide efforts to support the affected families. The Diocese of Cascadia is raising money for the Vehorns through an assistance drive; Roger Vehorn is a priest at Grace by the Sea, which is an affiliate congregation of the Silverdale-based diocese.
A family friend of the other homeowner, Wesley Grimm, created a GoFundMe page that is also garnering support. Since the fire Thursday, 124 people have donated $12,695, while it has been shared on Facebook over 1,000 times.
According to Crownover’s report, Roger Vehorn awoke to Fountain telling him he started the fire and that he needed to leave the house. The homeowner’s son was awakened by what sound like fireworks and exited after hearing his father yell, the report states. The son found gas canisters lying on the front porch and threw them away; they were later secured by police as evidence.
Police and South Whidbey Fire/EMS responded to the scene at 5:59 a.m. on Thursday. Crownover found Fountain on his knees in the front yard near where residents were meeting with a South Whidbey Fire/EMS official. One of the residents told Crownover that Fountain had intentionally set the fire. He was also informed Fountain had mental health issues. Fountain did not comment when questioned by Crownover about the allegation.
Fountain later told a paramedic at the scene that he had set the house fire and intended to go back inside to commit suicide.
Fountain smelled of gasoline and was arrested at the scene, according to the report.
Fountain has no prior criminal history. Wallace said an investigation has not revealed a motive as of Monday afternoon. He said they are still waiting for word from the federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on the origin and cause of the fire.