CENTERVILLE, Utah (ABC4) – The community is still shaken after police say a home invasion turned into arson in Centerville. Police still don’t know the motive behind the attack, and neighbors tell ABC4 they’re trying to piece the story together as well.
Every homeowner’s nightmare: their home going up in flames. On July 21, that nightmare turned reality for one Centerville family.
According to Centerville Police, a 37-year-old man broke into a home around 2:40 p.m. Police say the man threatened to kill the homeowners with a knife before dumping gasoline inside the home and setting it on fire.
Luckily, no one was seriously hurt. Police successfully removed everyone from the home before it was fully engulfed. Firefighters were able to keep the flames from spreading to neighboring homes and the hillside. However, the fire’s intense heat damaged at least one neighbor’s home.
“All the siding on this side, going over to the opposite side of the house, even, is melted,” Randi Stephens tells ABC4 while pointing to the east side of her home where the tan siding droops like wax dripping down a candle.
Randi Stephens and her husband Mark got a call from a neighbor that their home was at risk of catching fire. The two don’t live in this home full-time. They recently bought the house and have been renovating it for nearly a year. After the call, they rushed to their home to learn more about what was happening.
“We’ve lost everything in a flood before back in Louisiana,” Mark Stephens explains. “And so, was it going to happen again? Those were the initial things that kept going through our mind.”
While damaged, their home is still intact. Their neighbor’s home, on the other hand, is a complete loss.
“I’m very appreciative of the firefighters because if you look up there compared to what we have, they saved our house,” Randi Stephens states. She adds, “They’re amazing.”
The Stephens family, and other neighbors, didn’t know if their homes would catch fire and be destroyed. One can imagine how terrifying that would be, but they weren’t the only people who had a gut-turning experience.
“He kept yelling at us saying he wanted to burn, he was going to burn, the house was going to burn, we were going to burn, we all needed to die,” Sgt. Mike Dingman with the Centerville Police Department recounts. He says when the call came in, he rushed out of the police station to get in his car. Smoke was already forming a pillar in the sky.
Sgt. Dingman says the struggle to get the suspect out of the home lasted a few minutes. He remembers going into the garage of the home with a few other officers where the suspect was hiding at the time. He says the smoke was so thick, they could barely see the man as he continued to yell at them.
“Four or five of our officers, immediately after, were telling me that they were feeling dizzy, that they thought they were going to go down in the smoke,” Sgt. Dingman tells ABC4. “It was. I was afraid we were going to lose a few more people if we had to go back in that smoke.”
Just a few hours after the call, the police officers involved returned to their normal shift. And more than 24 hours after responding to the incident, they are still feeling the effects of the fire. “Every one of the guys there, myself included, we’ve been kind of hacking for the last 24 hours now trying to get back to normal, but yeah that was scary. It was one of the scarier ones I’ve ever been on.”
Sgt. Dingman has been with the department for more than 17 years. He says there have been calls in the past where officers have entered burning homes to help those inside, but has never experienced a call like this one. He says he hopes it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
According to the police department, the investigation is ongoing. They have not released any information on the motive behind the attack, or whether there is any relation between the suspect and the homeowners.