Arsonists Set Blaze In Abandoned Home

Two teenagers caught fleeing the scene

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A blaze ignited an abandoned house located up a steep dirt road off Pine Street late Tuesday morning.

The Payson Police and the Payson, Diamond Star, and Houston Mesa fire departments responded to the area where residents assisted police in catching two juveniles they believe started the fire.

Police Volunteer Bruce Van Camp saw smoke billowing from the chimney of the house earlier that day.

"I called the fire department to see if someone had a burn permit and they said no," Van Camp said. "I looked up later and the house was on fire."

"We arrived on scene at 10:25 a.m. and got the fire out in about a half an hour," Payson Fire Department Battalion Chief Guy Austin said.

Police Lt. Don Engler said Van Camp and another resident saw the teenagers running along McLane Road.

"We started searching the area and had a couple of citizens who were paying attention and had actually seen the boys go down along the fence and they stopped the boys down on Stover Road," Engler said.

"I went one way, and the other man went the other and he caught up with them," Van Camp said.

Officers were just around the corner and questioned the 15- and 16-year-old boys.

"We interviewed them and they admitted to the arson of the structure," Engler said. "They had decided to ditch school this morning and they had gone up to the house there and were smoking there, but further investigation revealed it wasn't an accidental situation -- it truly was, in fact, arson."

Engler said statements from the teens, along with evidence found during a preliminary investigation, pointed to arson.

"The house was unoccupied, no electricity, no gas and the fire started underneath the floor of the upper level," Austin said. "It's pretty obvious it was deliberately set."

The police department is doing the investigation since there is currently no fire marshal in Payson, Austin said.

Previous owners of the property had plans to put a restaurant in that location, but Engler said the house has been empty now for several years, serving only as a hangout for parties. Ample mounds of trash and debris surrounding the home corroborate the theory.

"The citizens are the ones who really helped out," Engler said. "If they hadn't called us, we would have gone into the area and might have missed them altogether. It's the citizens who actually made the case for us. We appreciate their help."

Both juveniles were released to the custody of guardians.

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