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Arson arrest made in Pullman apartment fire

UPDATED: Mon., July 22, 2013, 5:11 p.m.

Police arrested a Pullman plumber trainee today on charges he torched four apartment buildings under construction last week.

Bryan Lee Kitchen, 31, was arrested on a charge of first-degree arson, a felony, and taken to Whitman County Jail, the Pullman Police Department said.

Kitchen worked for a plumbing subcontractor at the Grove apartments construction site, and a police officer saw his vehicle parked near the scene about the time the fire started early in the morning July 14, authorities said.

The fire incinerated 88 units at the Grove apartment complex, which had planned to open for Washington State University students this fall. The completed buildings would have had a value close to $13 million, according to city building permits.

Police said Kitchen made admissions in an interview that led them to believe he was involved in setting the fire, but they do not yet know of a motive.

He is a licensed plumber trainee, according to the state Department of Labor and Industries, and was issued his license nine days before the fire.

Investigators considered Kitchen a person of interest since the morning of the blaze, and detectives contacted him periodically over the past week, police said. After they determined the fire was arson, they questioned Kitchen further today at the police station, where he was arrested.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Spokane will review the case for possible federal prosecution, police said.

The fire razed two 32-unit buildings, a 16-unit building and an eight-unit clubhouse. The fire also destroyed three pieces of construction equipment and damaged 12 others, and the heat melted vinyl siding at two nearby apartment complexes.

Four other apartment buildings at the site were saved from the flames, and construction resumed on those.

The project off Terre View Drive is planned as a 374-unit development that could house an estimated 1,000 tenants.

Campus Crest Communities Inc., the Charlotte, N.C.-based owner of the Grove, said it was confident it could provide alternative housing for everyone who planned to move into the Grove this fall. WSU also offered to help affected students find other places to live.

The investigation was led by the city’s fire and police departments with assistance from WSU Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A Spokane Valley Fire Department dog trained in detecting signs of arson and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department also assisted.