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PULLMAN APT FIRE: Man Will Be Tried In Federal Court

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PULLMAN, Wash. - A Pullman man charged with setting a fire that burned part of an apartment complex will be tried in federal court.
    
A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted Bryan Kitchen for burning down The Grove apartments in Pullman earlier this month, causing $13 million in damages.

He has told investigators he was drunk and that voices in his head told him to start the fire on July 14.
    
He faces  five to 20 years in prison if convicted.

UPDATE: Pullman Police tell our Kelsey Watts that Bryan Kitchen is now linked to 6 arsons dating back to 2004 of cars, garages and sheds. They are still investigating whether he could be linked to 4 unsolved arsons on the WSU campus last year and/or other cases.

UPDATE: Prosecutor says Kitchen is now the prime suspect in a number of other Pullman arson cases. The judge set bail on Tuesday at $1,000,000 based on risk to community.

Kitchen will be back in court Friday if he's not picked up by the ATF.

UPDATE: The US Attorney's Office plans on filing federal charge(s) against Pullman arson suspect Bryan Kitchen. Kitchen could be arrested by the ATF as soon as Wednesday. Kitchen & his wife have both declined to comment, neighbors say he's quiet, and they're shocked.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

PULLMAN, WASH. - Court records newly obtained by KHQ's Kelsey Watts, are shedding more light about the arrest of Bryan Kitchen, 31, of Pullman in connection with a $13 million arson fire.

Records show investigators used time-lapse photos taken from a security camera at The Grove Apartments to narrow down the start time of the blaze to between 3:03 a.m. and 3:16 a.m. on the morning of July 14th.

Before the fire started, police saw what was later determined to be Kitchen's red Saturn parked at the construction site. When officers interviewed Kitchen at his home that morning, records show he told them he had woken up around 1:30 that morning "and got a 'bad feeling' that something bad was going to happen where he was working" at The Grove construction site.

Kitchen told investigators he worked as a plumber's apprentice for KTU Plumbing, Inc, one of the sub-contractors on the project, and admitted he went to the site and was walking around smoking cigarettes with a lighter in his pocket.

Records show Kitchen said "he went up there because he thought someone had been shot and their body had been buried there, but then added he was only there for 20 minutes and didn't see or hear anything before coming back home and "getting drunk."

However, records show Kitchen also changed his story, saying he was drunk while he was at the site, and that he went there "because he thought someone had stolen some of their tools that his company had placed in a locked connex box."

Then on Monday, investigators contacted Kitchen again and he agreed to take a polygraph test administered by an ATF polygrapher at the Pullman Police Department.

During the examination, Kitchen was asked if he started the fire, and records show he said no. When he was asked if he had anything to do with it, he said no. However, after the examination the polygrapher reported Kitchen wasn't being honest.

When Kitchen was questioned about the polygraph results, records show he "admitted he lied and admitted he set the fire, but started it by accident when he dropped a lit cigarette in a pile of sawdust and wood chips."

When fire investigators told Kitchen it wasn't possible for a cigarette to cause such a fast-moving fire in such a short time, Kitchen then "admitted he actually started the pile of debris on the floor on fire using his Bic lighter" because "it provided him with more light inside the dark apartment and he was cold."

Records show he also admitted he had a "voice in his head that told him to do bad things."

The WSU registrars office on firmed to KHQ Kitchen is a former student who attended most recently in 2005 but did not graduate or declare a major.

Kitchen declined an interview from the Whitman County Jail, and his wife declined to comment to KHQ.

He's expected in Whitman County court Tuesday afternoon, and may face federal charges through the US Attorney's office.

PREVIOUS STORY:

PULLMAN, Wash. - Pullman Police have arrested a suspect believed to have intentionally set fire to the Grove Apartments. On July 22, 2013 at about 4:05 p.m., Pullman Police Department detectives arrested Bryan Lee Kitchen, a 31-year-old Pullman resident, in connection with the Grove Apartment fire on July 14.

Kitchen had accompanied detectives to the Pullman Police Department for an interview and subsequently made admissions that led investigators to believe he was involved in setting the fire.

Kitchen worked for a plumbing sub-contractor at the construction site, but no motive was provided for the arson. Kitchen had been a person of interest since the morning of the fire when his unoccupied vehicle was seen near the fire scene by a Pullman police officer around the time the fire was believed to have been started.

Detectives contacted Kitchen periodically during the course of the scene investigation. After the fire was determined to be arson, detectives asked Kitchen to accompany them to the police station on July 22 for further questioning.

Kitchen was booked at Pullman PD on a charge of Arson in the First Degree, and Class ‘A' felony, and will be transported to the Whitman County Jail. After conferring with the Whitman County Prosecuting Attorney and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Spokane, the U.S. Attorney's office will be reviewing the case for possible federal prosecution.


The Pullman Fire Department was called to the site of the Grove Apartments at 1560 NE Brandi Way just after 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 14, on a report of a structure fire. Whitman County Rural Fire District #12 and the Colfax and Moscow City and Rural Fire Departments also provided assistance. Four structures under construction with an estimated completed value of close to $13 million were destroyed.

Investigators from the Pullman Fire Department conducted a fire investigation at the scene to determine cause, and were assisted by investigators from the Pullman Police Department, Washington State University Police Department, and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department assisted with the use of an arson dog and the Spokane County Sheriff's Department assisted with mapping the scene. The investigation at the scene led to a conclusion that the fire was intentionally set.

PREVIOUS STORY: The three-alarm fire in Pullman destroyed four apartment buildings and a club house that would have been worth about $13 million when completed this summer.

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/12tOOuB ) the fire early Sunday destroyed 88 units at the Grove complex, where many residents are Washington State University students. The fire also destroyed three pieces of construction equipment and damaged a dozen more.    

Pullman Fire Chief Mike Heston says investigators are using an arson dog. An investigator from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also is involved.    

Pullman mayor and fire department spokesman Glenn Johnson says officials do not believe the fire is related to four unsolved arsons in the spring of last year at Washington State University.

After four vacant apartment buildings went up in flames in an early morning three-alarm blaze Sunday, six investigators from Pullman Fire, Pullman Police and Washington State University Police are sorting through the charred rubble.

Pullman Fire Chief Mike Heston confirmed to KHQ's Kelsey Watts an arson dog is being brought in to the Grove Apartments off Terre View Drive to aid in the investigation Tuesday to search for accelerants or other evidence that the fire may have been set on purpose.

"It's suspicious because it was so huge when we got here, and we're on a site where we don't have a lot of sources for ignition, so we're trying to rule those out," Heston added. "Until we rule it out, we're going to call it suspicious."

He said their first job is to rule out other potential causes; there were extension cords inside the buildings, and fire investigators will be looking at whether they had power as well as if other fuel sources were on the site.

So far, Heston believes the fire is not related to the string of four unsolved arson fires that were set near the WSU campus last summer, however that may change as new evidence in the investigation comes to light.

"We're taking this very seriously, as we took the other ones as well, but people's lives were at stake here on this one," Heston said.

The fire burned so fast and hot, Heston said the flames were 100 feet high when crews arrived on scene. Two neighboring apartment complexes were evacuated, as the intense heat melted the siding on the buildings. Heston said had the fire burned uncontrolled for another few minutes, one of those separate complexes full of students would have likely caught fire. 

Right now, damages to the Grove Apartments are estimated at $13 million dollars.

Terry Boston, the Assistant Vice President for Administrative Services at WSU said the university will have a better idea in the next 24-48 hours of the impact on students as Campus Crest gets more information.

Boston said Campus Crest still plans to have 96 beds available by August 17th, two days before the beginning of the fall semester. WSU may be able to house another 100-200 students in its residence halls. Campus Crest is in the process of contacting students who had signed leases for the now burned apartment buildings to make arrangements.

PREVIOUS STORY: A massive three-alarm blaze woke up several Washington State University students early Sunday morning, when the fire was burning dangerously close to their own complex.

"We were looking at the flames, and we thought it was going to spread," WSU senior Ashley Weyerts told KHQ's Kelsey Watts.

Weyerts and her roommate, WSU sophomore Jessica Johnson, initially heard yelling just after 3:00 a.m. Sunday, then heard someone yell ‘fire.'

"I went to my bedroom window and looked out, and I was expecting just some smoke or a little fire, and instead, saw this huge wall of flames," Weyerts added.

While Johnson called 911, the two helped knock on doors to evacuate fellow residents, then packed their belongings into their cars to get away from the fast-moving fire.

"The scariest part was when we heard the explosions, and that's probably when we really thought for about 5 minutes there, it's really going to spread," Weyerts said.

The explosions came from the propane tanks on the construction site and the gas tanks of the equipment left on scene. The fire burned so hot and fast, it even melted the siding on a building in their complex down to the wood.

"I just don't understand why someone would want to do so much damage, I mean this is affecting hundreds of peoples lives," Johnson told KHQ.

Amazingly, nobody was hurt. Fire investigators are calling the blaze suspicious, and an active investigation is underway.

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