Evan Thompson / The Record — Blake Fountain, 48, is suspected of burning down a Useless Bay Colony home and partially destroying another on Thursday morning. Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said Fountain is being investigated for first-degree arson.

Arson suspect suffered from mental health issues, police say

A man suspected of starting a fire that destroyed two homes on South Whidbey was suffering from mental-health problems, according to the police report on the July 6 fire.

Nobody was injured in the blaze, which broke out at about 5:30 a.m.

The suspect, 48-year-old Blake D. Fountain, had been living at Lynn and Roger Vehorn’s Useless Bay Colony home for about a year prior to allegedly starting the house on fire.

Fountain had been taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation July 2 after telling coworkers about a bomb plot. He had also told one of the residents that he could smell a fire when there was none, according to a report by Sgt. Darren Crownover with the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

On the morning of the fire, Fountain woke up Roger Vehorn to warn him that he had started the fire and Vehorn needed to get out. The couple’s son was awakened by what sounded like fireworks and exited after hearing his father yell, the report states.

Fountain told a paramedic at the scene that he planned on going back into the burning house to commit suicide.

The homeowner’s son found gas cans on the porch and threw them away from the house; the police took them as evidence. Fountain, who smelled of gasoline, was arrested on suspicion of arson in the first degree, the report states.

Fountain made his preliminary appearance in Island County Superior Court Friday afternoon. Judge Alan Hancock set his bail at $150,000 and ordered that he receive a mental health evaluation.

Detective Sgt. Laura Price with the Island County Sheriff’s Office said the Vehorns’ home was reduced to rubble, while the fire caused “extensive” damage to the second home.

Plumes of smoke could be seen from afar as the structure was engulfed in flames.

Fountain has no prior criminal history and a motive is unclear at this time, Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said.

Detective Ed Wallace with the sheriff’s office said the Vehorns allowed Fountain to live with them to help him get back on his feet. Fountain was working at a local nursery. Roger Vehorn is a priest at Grace by the Sea, an Anglican church in Oak Harbor; Fountain was a parishioner there.

The sheriff’s office contacted the federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for assistance in the investigation. ATF investigators were scheduled to arrive on Friday to help determine the origin and cause of the fire, Wallace said.

Price said everyone in the two residences was home at the time of the fire, but they all made it out.

“Everybody is safe,” she said. “All the animals and families are out.”

South Whidbey Fire/EMS Chief Rusty Palmer said damages to the second home mean it is likely a total loss. That homeowner’s insurance provider is making that determination. He said fire crews prevented a third house from catching fire. That home only had a broken window.

It might be “a couple weeks” before details on the fire’s cause and origin are determined, pending lab results, Wallace added.

Janet Desdier, who lives near the homes that burned, said she awoke to the sound of what she thought were fireworks going off.

“I thought, ‘What idiot is setting off fireworks?’” she recalled.

Desdier said she went outside and saw the house across the street on fire, and the second house beginning to burn as well. The crackling noise continued as she watched the buildings burn.

“I was afraid because a car got burned in the driveway,” Desdier said.

Useless Bay Country Club greens keeper Steve Gray and other greens keepers rushed to the scene at about 5:55 a.m. Gray said he helped ensure people were “getting out safe.”

“It was very intense,” Gray said. “It’s something I never want to see again. It was probably the hottest fire I’ve ever seen. It was crazy.”

During the fires, a propane tank ignited with a loud “whoosh” not long after people exited the house, Gray said.

A friend of one of the affected families, Keasha Campbell, started a GoFundMe.com page to help the family recover from the fire. As of Friday morning, 84 people raised $8,435, only $1,565 short of the $10,000 goal.

Whidbey News-Times editor Jessie Stensland contributed to this story.

 

Kyle Jensen / The Record — Fire officials responded to the fire near 6 a.m. Thursday morning.

Kyle Jensen / The Record — Useless Bay Colony residents watch the scene as the house fire dies down. The blaze claimed the home, located on Capt. Vancouver Drive.

Kyle Jensen / The Record — Plumes of smoke could be seen from miles away.

Kyle Jensen / The Record — The neighboring home also caught fire after propane tanks went up in flames.