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Blaze spread from trailer to house, causing extensive damage; St. Helens Police Department handling investigation, according to fire official

PHOTO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA RIVER FIRE AND RESCUE - A fire that broke out in a travel trailer on south 15th Street in St. Helens spread to a nearby home last week on June 8. A St. Helens man was arrested Thursday, June 8, in connection with a structure fire on South 15th Street in St. Helens that destroyed a travel trailer and caused more than $100,000 damage to a nearby home.

Jason Michael Zweigart, 18, was arrested Thursday after St. Helens Police Department officers determined he had been using a torch inside a parked travel trailer at 275 S. 15th St., causing a fire inside the trailer that later spread to an adjacent house.

Zweigart was charged with first-degree arson, reckless endangering, first-degree criminal mischief and reckless burning. Bail was initially set at $106,250, according to a release from SHPD. As of Monday, June 12, that figure was reduced to $8,850.

Zweigart was released from jail as of Tuesday, June 13, records show.

The bail reduction was the result of standard legal procedure, St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss explained. When someone is booked into Columbia County Jail, a bail schedule is followed based on arrest charges to determine a dollar amount. Upon review, a judge has the sole authority to reduce or increase the bail amount, Moss added.

Columbia River Fire and Rescue crews were dispatched to the scene of the fire at 9:33 a.m. CRFR Division Chief Ian O'Connor said the trailer was fully involved in flames and the fire had spread to the house through the attic by the time firefighters arrived.

The fire caused extensive damage to the home, rendering it uninhabitable. Two people had been living in the house, Zweigart and his mother. At the time of the fire, the mother was in the house while Zweigart was in the travel trailer. No injuries were reported, but Zweigart was evaluated at the jail for smoke inhalation.

ZweigartWhen someone intentionally starts a fire and it damages another's property, an arson charge applies, Moss explained, adding that if a person recklessly damages the property of another by fire or explosion, that is considered reckless burning. In this case, Moss said Zweigart had been intentionally burning items with a hand-held torch inside the trailer.

"It was described as a small hand-held torch and he [Zweigart] was intentionally lighting things on fire inside — in the trailer — and, for lack of a better term, was playing with fire," Moss said. "When something caught on fire, he thought he had it under control, and he didn't and it got away from him."

Moss said his department had mostly completed its part in the investigation Tuesday.

Four fire engines, three chief officers and two medics responded to the scene.

While O'Connor was not one of the fire chiefs on scene, he said, "It sounds like the whole incident was pretty crazy from the get-go."

CRFR personnel had been away from their stations conducting training exercises when the fire broke out, and several other support engines dispatched from the Columbia County Fairgrounds station were delayed en route by a unit train traveling through St. Helens, he said.

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