Here’s what the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office does
A woman going through a divorce and removing her belongings from the couple’s Lake Whatcom cabin, which she referred to as her estranged husband’s “baby,” reportedly used a candle to start a fire in a hutch and burn the structure in early December.
Following an investigation, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday booked Tia Cheri Mikols, 45, into Whatcom County Jail on suspicion of first-degree arson. Jail records show she was released on personal recognizance later Wednesday, and she is scheduled for an April 12 arraignment in Whatcom County Superior Court.
According to the police probable cause statement provided to The Bellingham Herald by Undersheriff Jeff Parks, North Whatcom Fire and Rescue responded to a structure fire at approximately 4:17 p.m. Dec. 3, 2018, in the 3100 block of North Shore Road. Fire crews found flames inside the two-story structure with heavy smoke throughout and learned that Mikols and her estranged husband were the owners.
Parks told The Herald that insurance estimated the damage from the smoke and fire at $200,000.
After the fire was extinguished, fire investigators determined that the blaze started in a 4-foot by 3-foot area along the north wall of the first-floor theater room, the statement said.
A wooden hutch, which had been near the point of the fire’s origin, was more severely damaged than other furniture in the theater room, and the report said fire investigators determined it had ignited by an open flame source, likely from something such as a match, lighter or candle. Evidence also showed that the fire source had been placed in an area where it usually would not have been used and close to flammable surfaces.
Investigators also reportedly found a tray containing 5 candles surrounded in hardened wax with an obvious void where it appeared a sixth candle had been. A candle that would have matched the 5 on the tray was not found at the cabin.
Mikols’ estranged husband told investigators he was in Bellevue at the time of the fire, the statement said, and that his divorce from Mikols was “full of tension.”
A neighbor told investigators that a rented moving truck had been at the cabin, the statement said, and that Mikols and another person had been moving items out. The neighbor also said he left his house at about the same time as Mikols — at approximately 1 p.m. — and returned to see smoke coming from the cabin.
Investigators also contacted the person who helped Mikols move, who said they had lit several candles on a big tray the night before the fire when they arrived at the house, but that the candles were kept upstairs and Mikols blew them out, the statement said.
Mikols denied starting the fire at the cabin when interviewed by investigators, the statement said.