Pullman police arrested a plumber-trainee Monday on suspicion that he torched four college apartment buildings under construction last week.
Bryan Lee Kitchen, 31, faces felony charges of first-degree arson. Police jailed the Pullman resident in the Whitman County Jail in Colfax.
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 of 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 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 Monday at the police station, where they made the arrest.
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. The heat melted vinyl siding at two nearby apartment complexes.
Four other apartment buildings at the site were saved from the flames, and construction has 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 planning 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 help 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 Office also assisted.
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