Some of the best parts of Devan Howe-Kizzar’s life are flammable.
The books, blankets, teddy bears and clothes. Baby photos and birth certificates. Dressers and bed frames. Purses and wallets. Money, car keys, her daughter’s birthday present – all reduced to a sprawling wave of blackened ash, with the occasional jagged edge from a piece of furniture. And a charred dream car named Marsha in the front yard (now called Marshmallow).
Sifting through the rubble one afternoon in December, it’s apparent the fire was hot, fast and furious. The blaze, reeking of gasoline, burned not only her home at 111 E. Sinto Ave., but the one next door. Anything not touched by flames was ravaged by smoke.
“This was the living room,” the 41-year-old mother said, standing where her dining room table should be. Water droplets from the scorched second-floor fell onto her blonde hair pulled tight in a pony tail. “It was beautiful.”
Two months later, Howe-Kizzar is still unsure how to move on from that night. With no cash, renter’s insurance or assets – save for a burnt Marshmallow she traded in for an old motor home – she’s unsure what to do with her time and energy.
So she’s taken to staying in her newly purchased but old camper in the home’s backyard, spending her days sifting through the rubble, and nights huddled around a small space heater. Her kids, meanwhile, sleep at a friend’s house along with her husband, from whom she’s separated.
So far, she’s found an old portfolio from her time as a journalist and a somehow unburned box of jewelry. She keeps old baby clothes she’s scavenged in a large, plastic Ziploc bag. They all reek of fire.
“There’s no book for help or where to start,” she said weeks ago, her eyes tearing up. “I just figured shoes. So the kids got shoes.”
It’s a temporary gig, and one that’s quickly nearing its deadline. For the past few weeks, she’s received several notices to vacate from her landlords – property owners Vince and Janet Dressel – as well as verbal warnings by Spokane police who tell her she’s breaking the city’s no camping ordinance.
The power cord she runs from a friend’s nearby apartment complex keeps getting cut, too. She suspects the landlords are behind it, but they deny any involvement.
“Oh my goodness,” Janet Dressel said when reached by phone last week. “She’s been parked in the back of the yard illegally. We did get a notice from code enforcement about the trailer, and we’ve been trying to get her removed from the property, but she’s refusing to go.”
Dressel said she can’t move forward with a planned demolition until Howe-Kizzar is off the property. After that, the two homes will become empty lots.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen from here,” she said. “We’re just trying to move on.”
When the Dressels first arrived at the home early on Oct. 4 to assess the damage, it was still burning. The fire roared into the six-bedroom home at about 2 a.m. through a large front window, after a houseguest saw a fire on the front porch. It moved quickly toward a couch in the living room, where Howe-Kizzar’s young daughters would often sleep in the summer.
“This was one of the first things to go,” she said, pointing to a space near the open hole where glass should be. “It was popping.”
From there, it tore through the home that was built in the early 1900s, room by room, moving up the walls and into empty bedrooms on the second floor. Howe-Kizzar can still remember the smell of smoke – the size of the rock and the noise it made as it bounced off her 14-year-old son’s bedroom window, while she stood outside begging him to wake up and come downstairs.
Howe-Kizzar and her four children – ages 6, 8, 14 and 16 – were able to escape, along with her friend, Chris Thrasher, who was sleeping in the living room, and Alan Watts, who was staying in the basement. The only belongings they were able to escape with were the clothes they were wearing.
Nobody in the other home was injured, either. The only people harmed were a pair of firefighters, who were hurt by falling debris. They were treated and released from a hospital.
From the onset, Howe-Kizzar and the Dressels suspected arson. The likely culprit, they think, is an ex-boyfriend of Howe-Kizzar’s best friend, who was allegedly threatened by the man hours before the fire was started.
The 38- year-old, who is in the Spokane County Jail on an unrelated charge, is now also the sole focus of a Spokane Police Department arson investigation. In a search warrant filed last month, investigators learned that he’d sent Howe-Kizzar’s friend threatening messages on Facebook. Surveillance video from a camera across the street shows a man setting the home on fire, though the details of that video were not immediately made public.
Howe-Kizzar said she’s viewed the video but signed an agreement saying she wouldn’t disclose the details. The Dressels, too, said they’ve seen video of the arson.
Thrasher, who was staying at the original home, was also up when the fire started. He reported walking out onto the balcony about 30 minutes before 2 a.m. and not seeing anything out of sorts. Minutes later, he saw an orange glow coming through the home’s large front window and smelled the distinct odor of gasoline as he made his way back outside.
Howe-Kizzar told investigators the suspect also has a history of domestic violence. She said he had recently gotten out of jail and had become enraged after learning her friend had started dating someone else.
Later, the friend told Howe-Kizzar that a few days before the fire she had also filed a police report against the man, saying he was stalking her and assaulted her days earlier. In that incident, records say, he allegedly dragged her out of a car in the middle of the street, but she was able to escape.
The woman also provided police screen shots of chats with the suspect over Facebook, sent the day before the fire.
“Regardless of what (sic) you’re coming with me,” he wrote. “I’m very afraid right now of doing some real crazy (things) I don’t want to do (sic) that’s not worth it.”
That same day at about 3 p.m., he posted on Facebook that he got “played” by a girl and another man. He then says he’s “signing out” and it’s the “end of this chapter.”
On Oct. 17, he was arrested and charged with fourth-degree domestic assault. He’s being held in jail in lieu of a $10,000 bond.
The man has not been arrested or charged in the arson investigation. As a matter of policy, The Spokesman-Review does not name people investigated for a crime until they are charged.
For Howe-Kizzar, it makes no difference whether he’s charged. She and her children are still without a house, and soon she’ll be without a place to park what little home she has left.
“It is what it is,” she said. “But here I still am. And here we still are in limbo.”
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