Fire investigators Friday were scouring the area of a three-alarm blaze that destroyed a two-story house on a rural south Santa Rosa compound occupied by a bewildering mix of residents and beset with problems.
Investigators were early in the process of determining the cause of Thursday's 5:30 p.m. blaze, but had confronted confusing and contrasting accounts of the living situation at the main home, said Central Fire Acting Battalion Chief Ron Busch.
Sonoma County Code Enforcement officials also are involved because of potential code violations on the 1-acre parcel, including multiple examples of extension cords being used to provide power to outbuildings converted to residential use, he said.
It also appeared the property was in or at risk of foreclosure and had been put on the market, thickening the plot and raising additional avenues of investigation, Busch said.
But between insurance investigators, a property crimes detective from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department and the Sonoma County Fire Investigation Task Force, no one had yet reached any conclusions about the blaze, Busch said.
The landlord, James Quail, told The Press Democrat Thursday night that the property attracted squatters and ne'er-do-wells. He said he had been working to evict occupants of the residence where the fire occurred and had recently disconnected the electrical service.
Quail also said he thought an occupant of the destroyed structure had left a candle burning, though Busch said Quail gave investigators a different account.
Two people who had been in the house an hour or two before the fire said they were unaware of any candles left burning nor any source of gas or electricity in the house.
A woman who had been living in the house at Brooks Avenue and Ward Road said she and her husband began renting there eight months ago and were never provided the power called for in their rental agreement, despite Quail's repeated promises.
The woman, Nadine La Rose, said she'd finally resorted to using an extension cord from another building for about a week to power a heater, though Quail disconnected it a day before the fire.
She said three other individuals lived in the house and had similarly negative interactions with Quail.
Busch said fire investigators were hearing contradictory information from many sources and had very large number of people to interview in trying to determine just what happened.
"Right now we're still early in this investigation," he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.