Autopsy reveals man died of smoke intake; police suspect fire was arson |

Autopsy reveals man died of smoke intake; police suspect fire was arson

William Ferchland

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune El Dorado County Sheriff's Department Coroner Pete Van Arnum examines the area near where the fire was suspected of starting.

Autopsy results on Jeff Bursha, a 51-year-old South Lake Tahoe man found dead after his house caught fire, stated the real estate agent died of smoke intake, said El Dorado County sheriff’s Coroner Pete Van Arnum.

Bursha was found on the bathroom floor in his house at 861 Park Avenue. A fire charred the front of his residence early Thursday morning.

Van Arnum said Bursha was slightly burned and blistered from the fire but smoke intake was the fatal factor.

A toxicology report to determine if Bursha had anything in his system at the time of death will be completed in several weeks.

“We do it on every coroner’s case just to cover all the bases,” Van Arnum said.

Those looking into the fire labeled the blaze as suspicious and still consider it arson as initially reported.

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Authorities looking into the case were vague on details when contacted Tuesday.

“It’s a suspicious fire we believe was arson,” said South Lake Tahoe police Sgt. Alex Schumacher, who heads the detective unit.

A woman authorities say is Bursha’s ex-girlfriend was questioned and released on Thursday. Police have not identified any suspects.

While the cause remains unknown, authorities are trying to pinpoint where it began.

“We’re still trying to work with the fire guys to determine the origin of the fire,” said Detective Mark Tappen. “I don’t want to comment on that anymore just to say we’re still investigating.”

Firefighters said the fire didn’t pose a challenge to extinguish and only charred the front of the two-story house. When authorities searched the scene Thursday, the origin was believed to be near the front door.

A gas can was found on the porch. Rick Myers, a captain and fire investigator with the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, ruled the can out on Thursday but police are still considering it.

“We don’t know if it was involved or not,” Schumacher said. “It was there (on the porch).”

Myers was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

“I guess the main thing I could say is we’re still investigating it as a suspicious fire, possibly arson, and until we rule that out that’s how were continuing the investigation. And we need to talk to anyone in that area,” Schumacher said. “They may not have seen anything that has any meaning to them, but it may help us in the investigation.”

Those with information on the case are asked to call Detective Tappen at (530) 542-6134 or Secret Witness at (530) 541-6800.

– E-mail William Ferchland at