Police have suspect in Forest Twp. house blaze

IMG_0011FOREST TWP. — Michigan State Police say they have a suspect in connection with what firefighters call a blaze of “suspicious” origin Wednesday morning in this northern Genesee County township.

The fire destroyed an unoccupied house at 14144 Henderson Road about six miles southeast of Millington. The fire scene is about one-quarter mile north of Lake Road and less than one mile south of Willard Road, the line separating Tuscola and Genesee counties. Sgt. Jeff Juneac of the Michigan State Police said investigators are focusing on a person who recently lived at the house. The dwelling is located in a woods at the end of a dirt driveway leading about 100 yards east of Henderson Road.

“A guy was evicted and was upset about being evicted, and basically right after that, the place catches on fire,” Juneac said.

“A passer-by said he could see fire in the woods” and reported the blaze about 10:05 a.m., said Forest Township Fire Department Chief Dave Lutze.

Juneac said a state trooper who had just completed a state police fire investigation school was the first on the scene of the blaze along Henderson Road, which becomes Sheridan Road to the north in Tuscola County.

The trooper “took evidence and photographs and has developed this lead” in the case, Juneac said.

Lutze said on Thursday that he has summoned a state fire investigator to the scene to seek the cause of the fire.

“Probably — with as much damage as there is to the home — we won’t be able to determine the fire’s cause,” Lutze said.

When asked why he considers the blaze of suspicious origin, Lutze said “It had way too much of a start on us. It was way too big of a fire by the time we got the call at that time in the morning.”

The Millington Arbela Fire Department assisted Forest Township firefighters at the scene, as did the Otter Lake and Davison departments.

Lutze said he doesn’t believe the suspicious fire is connected to the arson of a church in Forest Township in August. State police found accelerants inside the Otisville Church of Christ, destroyed by fire on Aug. 17.

“Somebody put something in the church,” Lutze said. State police continue investigating the church arson.

Lutze declined to estimate the value of the loss caused by Wednesday’s fire at the 1,873-square-foot home and its contents. Forest Township Assessor Tom Valentine said the cash value of the property, which includes the home set on about 10 acres, is $189,600.

Forest Township Treasurer Linda Smoke said the property’s owner is listed as “US ROF III Legal Title Trust 2015-1,” an entity that bought the property June 2. Prior to that, the owner was listed as “PROF-2013-S3 REO II L.L.C.,” which took over ownership in February from a couple who owned the property, township officials said.

Tax bills are mailed to a Chicago address and all taxes have been paid, officials said. Valentine said he planned to visit the fire scene Thursday, noting the damage to the two-bedroom structure could result in lower property taxes in 2017.

“Unless they get it fixed before Dec. 31 I’m assuming there will be an adjustment” in the home’s assessed value, Valentine said. By law, tax bills for a particular year are based on a home’s condition as of Dec. 31 of the previous year, he said.

Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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