By Darrell Todd Maurina
Police arrested a Clovis man Wednesday night in connection with a house that burned down last weekend.
Police said Matthew Southers, 20, admitted to burning down a house at 820 1/2 Jones late Saturday night. They said he is also suspected in connection with an arson early in the morning of Oct. 24 at 708 W. Eighth Street, though he denies that allegation.
He faces up to 4 1/2 years in jail on charges of negligent arson, conspiracy to commit arson, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
He was in jail Thursday in lieu of $15,000 bond.
“He said he had motive because of the ‘crackheads’ that hung out at that residence; he said that was why he burned down the house,” said Detective Keith Bessette. “There is nothing supporting that so far as I know from my investigation at this point.”
Bessette said both houses were abandoned so no lives were at immediate risk, but said the dry weather and location of the houses could have made things worse.
“If you just take a look at what is happening in California, with the lack of rain and moisture in this area, the embers could have very easily gone to another house and started that on fire as well as any other structures that were in the area,” Bessette said. “This one was a ‘half’ address which put it in the alley, which made it so much closer to neighboring houses. There also were a lot of trees in the area.
“It could have been catastrophic, but luckily it wasn’t, and our fire department did a tremendous job of containing the fire and knocking it out.”
Fire Chief Ron Edwards estimated the houses were worth about $10,000 each. The Friday fire did an estimated $5,000 worth of damage and the Saturday fire did about $2,500 damage. Bessette said that based on his visual observations, both houses appear to be a total loss and probably will have to be demolished.
Bessette credited officer Max Stansell with doing an investigation that led to Southers’ arrest.
“Some citizens had some information on the arson at 820 1/2 Jones and he was able to collect several written statements,” Bessette said. “From those written statements I was able to obtain a warrant on Matthew Southers. It took me a couple of days but I was able to finally gather him up.”
Bessette said Southers has denied involvement in the Friday blaze on Eighth Street, though police say the method of operation was similar.