By Ann McCreary
A former Gold Creek resident was arrested last week on charges that he deliberately burned down his home last July after it survived the Carlton Complex wildfire.
Keith E. Holbrook, 67, was arrested April 29 in Wenatchee on an Okanogan County Superior Court warrant charging him with one count of first-degree arson and one count of possession of an incendiary device.
Holbrook was booked into Chelan County Regional Justice Center and released on $10,000 bail, according to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.
According to an investigative report by Sheriff’s Deputy Kreg Sloan, a home owned by Holbrook and his wife, Theda, at 193 South Fork Gold Creek Road was destroyed by fire that began late in the evening of July 21.
Two days earlier, on July 19, Sloan was in the Gold Creek area assessing fire activity and structure protection and evacuation concerns during the Carlton Complex Fire, Sloan wrote in his report.
He visited the Holbrook home around 3 p.m. and found no one there, but found doors to the house wide open. Looking through the doors he saw gas lanterns in the garage and a can of brake fluid and a lighter on a kitchen counter. He also saw spray cans of carburetor fluid on a woodpile next to the house, and an empty red plastic gas can lying near the residence, according to the report.
Sloan took photos of the scene because he “thought the conditions were somewhat suspicious,” according to his report. At the time the wildfire was not threatening the residence or its outbuildings, he said.
On July 22 Sloan was contacted by Deputy Laura Wright, who responded to a suspicious house fire at the Holbrook property. No part of the wildland fire had burned to the residence, but the house was destroyed, Sloan said in his report.
Sloan’s report also stated that fire crews had contacted Holbrook at the residence in the afternoon of July 21 and Holbrook “was not cooperative and didn’t want anyone on his property.”
Firefighters told Sloan that they had found railroad ties stacked end to end on blue tarps that had been soaked in gas leading from the yard to a wood shed near the house, and had also found several barrels of oil or diesel fuel up against the garage.
Sloan said he went to the residence after the fire and found burn patterns that made it “clear that the ignition source to the residence was not a result of the wildland fire to the north and east of the residence” but started in the yard and burned toward the residence.
The report also described conversations reported by firefighters who said Holbrook told them that his house “was full of ammo and gunpowder” and that they “should leave it to the fire and that he didn’t want anyone hurt.”
Firefighters also said Holbrook appeared “agitated” and warned them against walking around in the brush because of rattlesnakes. He told firefighters he didn’t want them on his property “risking our lives because he has insurance on his home,” Sloan’s report said.
Holbrook also told firefighters he and his wife had health problems and wanted to move, Sloan said in his report.
Sloan reported that an investigator with Holbrook’s insurance company said Holbrook had put in a claim before his house burned down, and that neighbors had seen Holbrook driving down South Fork Gold Creek Road with his car loaded with possessions before the fire.
When the insurance investigator came to the Holbrook residence after the fire he found a church youth group was cleaning the scene and removing items, destroying evidence, Sloan’s report said.
The insurance company had cut a check for about $60,000 to Holbrook for half of his personal property and was putting Holbrook and his wife up in a motel in Wenatchee and planned to put them in an apartment, Sloan’s report said.