Crime

Bellingham man piled blankets on stove to start fire, charges say

Juan Manuel Ortiz, 35, right, appears in Whatcom County Superior Court on Friday, June 2, 2017, alongside a deputy public defender, Richard Larson. Ortiz faces charges of starting a fire at a Bellingham home.
Juan Manuel Ortiz, 35, right, appears in Whatcom County Superior Court on Friday, June 2, 2017, alongside a deputy public defender, Richard Larson. Ortiz faces charges of starting a fire at a Bellingham home. chutton@bhamherald.com

A man piled blankets on a stove to light a Bellingham house on fire last month, according to a prosecutor’s statement read in court Friday.

Police booked Juan Manuel Ortiz, 35, into jail last week to face a charge of first-degree arson for a fire that damaged a Happy Valley home about three weeks ago.

On the night of May 14, a woman living in the 3100 block of Harrison Road heard her housemate, Ortiz, “talking nonsense” while drinking the alcoholic beverage Four Loko, according to her report to investigators.

She told him to quiet down, and he agreed, but soon he started yelling again. She then heard the living room smoke alarm, according to her report. The woman escaped unharmed and called 911 from a neighbor’s house.

Firefighters arrived to find a rapidly growing kitchen fire. Ortiz cut his arm on glass when he escaped through a window. He suffered burns, too, and was later taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment.

Flames burned the kitchen and a stairwell. Smoke damaged the rest of the home. The total damage to the home was estimated at $75,000. At the time firefighters noted they had called in arson investigator, but said the cause remained under investigation. They found pieces of burned cloth on the stove.

Ortiz made his first appearance in court Friday, where Superior Court Commissioner Alfred Heydrich set bail at $50,000.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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