Mark Seguin, 62, arrested after a five-month investigation
A man who once served as Twisp’s fire chief faces arson and other charges related to a Feb. 11 fire at his Burgar Street house, according to Twisp police.
Mark Seguin, 62, pleaded not guilty Monday (July 29) before Okanogan Superior Court Judge Christopher Culp. Seguin’s trial was set for Oct. 1, although it is likely to be postponed.
Seguin faces one count of first-degree arson, one count of insurance fraud and 22 counts of reckless endangerment, according to court documents filed last week.
Twenty-two firefighters from Okanogan County Fire District 6 stations in Winthrop, Twisp, Mazama and Carlton responded on the afternoon of Feb. 11 to a house fire at 419 Burgar St. By charging Seguin with reckless endangerment, prosecutors say he put responding firefighters at “substantial risk of death or serious physical injury.” No fire personnel were injured while fighting the blaze.
Twisp police arrested Seguin July 19 at the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival. He was released from jail on July 22 after someone posted bond on $10,000 bail.
Summary of reports
What follows is a summary of reports written by the investigating officer, Ty Sheehan of the Twisp police:
On Feb. 11, Seguin was at Home Depot in Omak, buying carpet for the house, when someone called to tell him the house was on fire. Seguin had left for Omak around 1 p.m. that day. The fire was called in at 2:27 p.m.
After Seguin got back to his house, he was visibly upset when speaking with Sheehan. Seguin asked for an arson investigator and accused tenants he had recently evicted of starting the fire. Police determined the tenants could not have been at Seguin’s house around the time of the fire.
Kreg Sloan, an Okanogan sheriff’s detective and arson investigator, reviewed the scene the day after the fire. Sloan found a powerful propane heater, used to heat construction sites, inside a small closet in the dining room. The heating element faced the closet’s wood paneling, and the valve was fully open.
Sloan could see right away that the heater had started the fire, which spread from the closet to the attic and quickly consumed the entire house.
Sheehan interviewed Seguin for nearly two hours, one week after the fire. The officer’s report indicates that he did not treat Seguin like a suspect.
Sheehan did not read Seguin his Miranda rights, which would have informed him that anything he said would be used against him in court. This initial, informal contact presently is the only interview between Seguin and police that is part of the court record in this case.
According to Sheehan’s report of the interview, Seguin said he had placed the propane heater in the middle of the dining room, facing the front of the house, to warm the upstairs. Seguin said someone else must have deliberately moved the heater into the closet, according to the report.
Seguin said that if he had been the one who had burned down his house, “You’d never know it”—he’d leave no evidence, according to the police report. Seguin had 30 years of experience as a firefighter and arson training, the report said.
“This type of deliberate fire indicates familiarity with fire behavior,” Sheehan wrote in his report. “It would also give the person setting the fire plenty of time to leave the location and establish an alibi.”
“The only real flaw” in the plan, Sheehan continued, “appears to be that the dining room floor was not destroyed.”
Since the floor did not burn and the heater remained intact, investigators could see exactly how the heater had been placed inside the closet, the report said.
The arrest came shortly after Seguin’s insurance company denied his claim on the house, on July 2. Safeco’s fire investigator inspected the house two days after the fire and agreed with local officials that the fire was suspicious, according to the police report.
Seguin was interviewed twice by Safeco’s special investigations unit, according to the court record.
The Safeco fire investigator assigned to Seguin’s case found his statements “shockingly inconsistent;” Safeco counted 30 or more inconsistent statements in several hours of interviews, the report said.
By the end of the second interview with Safeco, Seguin admitted he knew the dangers of using a construction-site propane heater inside a residence but decided to use it anyway, according to the police report.
The insurance company conducted a test with the same type of propane heater and made a reconstruction of Seguin’s closet. The first burst of flame appeared 60 minutes into the test, according to the police report.
“The heater (as found at the location) would have functioned as a delay device for starting the fire,” Sheehan’s report said.
Phone calls and emails to Seguin’s attorneys were not returned. Attempts to reach Seguin through neighbors and acquaintances were unsuccessful.
Seguin was Twisp’s fire chief until 2005. At the time, Twisp had its own fire department; now it contracts for fire protection with Okanogan County Fire District 6. Seguin was demoted from chief to volunteer firefighter in October 2005 after an audit of a fire department account found that Seguin had loaned himself and another firefighter money from the account.
Seguin said at the time that he fully repaid the loans. Prior to his demotion, Seguin had been charged with felony misappropriation of public funds. The jury deadlocked during trial, and charges against Seguin were dropped.