Early Monday morning, neighbors gathered in the street at the Cascade Mobile Home Community to mourn the loss of beloved friends killed in a fire. They were to wed on Thursday.
By late afternoon, their understanding of the tragedy changed.
Spokane police are now investigating the fire in southwest Spokane as a homicide.
The fire engulfed the mobile home at about 12:15 a.m. Monday, nearly spreading to other buildings. Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze and found two bodies inside.
The future had looked bright for the Spokane couple, neighbors said. They’d been together more than 20 years, enjoying an active lifestyle in the senior-oriented mobile home park. A wedding reception was to be held at a neighboring home.
“They were devoted to each other,” neighbor Paula Hanes said, gathered with mourners outside the mobile home at 2311 W. 16th Ave.
But police don’t believe the fire killed the couple, police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said. Investigators retrieved a gun from the burned home. The Spokane County medical examiner has not released the cause of death, and police have not identified the victims.
This is the second mobile home fire investigated as a homicide in a week. Last Wednesday, an explosion blew apart a mobile home at the Chattaroy Valley Estates at 3110 E. Chattaroy Rd.
The victims, Mark and Sheila Asselin, were airlifted with severe burns to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Mark Asselin died Friday and Sheila Asselin died Sunday. Neighbors said the couple were in the middle of a divorce.
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case as a homicide and has yet to determine a cause, Fire District 4 Chief Randy Johnson said.
Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said there have been five fire-related deaths in the city this year. The state fire marshal reports three in outlying county areas.
Schaeffer said it’s been eight years since the city has responded to so many fire deaths in a seven-month span.
“It’s really disappointing, and I think it’s pretty tragic for us as a community here,” Schaeffer said about the recent rash of deaths.
The fire deaths have slowed other fire investigations, Schaeffer said. About nine significant incidents are still open, including a suspected arson at Geno’s restaurant and a nearby low-income apartment complex near Gonzaga University in June.
However, there are only two investigators between the cases, and Schaeffer said they’re struggling to keep up.
“You just have to multitask and do everything the best you can,” he said.
Schaeffer said it can cost anywhere between $25,000 to $50,000 to train a fire investigator, money the fire department doesn’t have in its budget.
“Everything that we have on our plate right now has really been pushed to the back burner until we have enough resources and we’re caught up with the critical incidents,” he said.