House Explosion In Strawberry Ruled Arson

Investigators have no suspects


An explosion that rocked the town of Strawberry April 20 was caused by a deliberately opened gas valve, according to Pine-Strawberry Fire Marshal John Varljen.
The late-afternoon explosion on Dan's Highway destroyed the Perez family home, a pickup truck, a camp trailer and most of the tall pines on the family's lot.
The gas valve on the family's electric dryer had been opened and turned to the full "on" position, Varljen said. "There is no way it was accidental."
Once the valve was opened, it filled the home with the highly explosive propane. "A pilot light in the kitchen is the probable source (of ignition)," Varljen said.
"We have the how, but not the who," Varljen said. His investigation report, piled high with documentation and photos, was turned over to the Gila County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday.
However, Gila County Sheriff's Det. George Ratliff said there's not enough evidence to warrant an investigation.
"There is not enough for them to go on," Varljen said. "It's frustrating."
Arson is one of the toughest crimes to prove since any evidence of arson, like a break-in, would have gone up in flames with the rest of the family's belongings, Varljen said.
But no matter if the investigation continues, the Perez family grateful to the community for its assistance has decided to rebuild.
"We are going to stick it out," Sam Perez said Thursday.
Construction could start as early as next week.

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