Suspicious blaze destroys $3M unfinished home

An unfinished Battle Point home burns late Saturday. - Kevin Ulrich photo
An unfinished Battle Point home burns late Saturday.
— image credit: Kevin Ulrich photo

Federal investigators join local officials in searching for the cause.

Of a $3 million home, the only thing worth trying to save was the stand of trees around it.

Now fire investigators want to know why an unfinished mansion on Battle Point Drive burned late Saturday, with a federal team joining local officials in combing through the ashes for clues.

“What we have right now is a very unfortunate structure fire,” said Glen Tyrrell, acting chief of the Bainbridge Island Fire Depart­ment.

“If there’s evidence of foul play, we’ll investigate that. If it’s an unfortunate accident, it is what it is.”

Investigators from the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined local police and fire investigators combing through the ruins. The home continued to smolder Monday evening.

Trained dogs were brought in to sniff out any “accelerants” that an arsonist might have used to ignite the structure.

The home, in the 10000 block of Battle Point Drive, was under construction and about 60 percent complete – roof on and windows in, but doors yet to be hung – at the time of the fire and was unoccupied.

The property is owned by Jeff Sneller of Bainbridge Island. It was listed for sale at $2.99 million by a local real estate agency.

The blaze was reported around 11:34 p.m. Saturday, and fire crews were on the scene about eight minutes later.

But the fire was already so intense that firefighters took a “defensive posture,” turning their hoses on the firs that ring the building site to prevent the fire’s spread.

Tyrrell said that the blaze’s head start was magnified by the home’s tile roof, which concentrated heat within the structure.

The absence of interior sheetrock allowed the flames to spread unchecked.

“It was fully involved, and I mean it was fully involved,” he said. “With the tile roof, the heat retention is just enormous. When it finds air, it just explodes into fire.”

All that remains of the house is a towering fireplace and the concrete foundation.

The home site faces west toward the Kitsap Peninsula with water and mountain views. It looked across a sloping property recently cleared of trees.

Tree-cutting has recently drawn intense criticism on a local online site, “Bainbridge Buzz,” raising the possibility of eco-terrorism-related arson in the minds of investigators. But Tyrrell said there was no determination yet as to whether the fire was accidental or purposely set.

“We don’t even have the cause and origin yet,” Tyrrell said. “There’s no evidence of any eco-terrorism (groups taking) credit yet.”

Anyone with information on the blaze is asked to call the fire department at 842-7686.

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