South Whidbey man accused of burning own house over grudge with neighbor

A Mutiny Bay man who was heard yelling “Burn, (expletive), burn” outside his house as flames spread through the living room is accused of setting his own house on fire over a grudge with his neighbor.

Michael Johnson, 45, was charged in Island County Superior Court on Jan. 4 with felony arson. If convicted, he could spend between 31-41 months in a state prison under the standard sentencing range.

He’s currently being held in the Coupeville jail under $100,000 bail.

The fire was reported at about 2:30 a.m., Dec. 31, on Timber Lane. It was reported by a neighbor, who told a 9-1-1 dispatcher that the single occupant, Johnson, was outside yelling, “Burn, (expletive), burn,” according to Lt. Evan Tingstad with the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

Tingstad said Deputy Leif Haugen arrived on scene and found Johnson standing outside the front door looking in at flames. Haugen, who had been briefed by the dispatcher about the man’s alleged comments, ordered him to stand back and then inquired what happened.

“Leif, being the keen investigator that he is, asked a few more questions,” Tingstad said.

According to Haugen’s official report, Johnson told the officer “that his neighbors made him angry and he set his own house on fire.” Johnson also confessed to starting the fire with gasoline in a written statement.

A South Whidbey Fire/EMS fire investigator’s report that determined the official cause was completed this week but was not available by press time. Chief Rusty Palmer referred comment of the case to the sheriff’s office.

He did say earlier, however, the fire was isolated to the front room of the home, and firefighters were able to keep the flames from spreading. The damage was severe and the home is unlivable, he said.

Johnson was taken into custody that evening and booked on first degree arson.

Police say he was the legal tenant but not the homeowner. Tingstad said it was owned by a family member who has since died. The property is believed to be in a state of foreclosure, he said.

Tingstad also noted that Johnson is known to police. South Whidbey sheriff’s deputies have responded to numerous complaints from neighbors over the years, ranging from lewd behavior to alleged threats of property damage, he said.