Fire at lawyer’s home ruled arson

William Ferchland

Investigators believe a fire that gutted a prominent defense attorney’s home was intentionally ignited and are asking for help in finding the arsonist.

The Aug. 29 fire at Lori London’s two-story home on Skyline Avenue took firefighters 30 minutes to control and eventually extinguish. London, her two children and family dog were out of town in Santa Cruz. A family cat at the house was eventually found.

Gareth Harris, fire marshal at Lake Valley Fire Protection District, had help from the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department and the state’s Bureau of Forensic Services in reaching the conclusion of arson.

“We rule out different sources of ignition and in this particular case, the evidence indicated this fire was intentionally set,” Harris said.

London was shocked someone would set fire to her house.

“I don’t know what to say about that,” she said. “I can’t believe somebody would want to do that to me and my children.”

According to the State Bar of California, London has practiced law in the state since 1985. She handles family law, juvenile and criminal matters, which can represent some of the most contentious cases in the court system.

The fire has not moved London to reconsider her career.

“My job is very rewarding for me and this in no way gives me second thoughts on the career I chose,” she said.

Witnesses reported an explosion when the fire ignited on the darkened, quiet street off Elks Club Drive. Harris believed the sound was from the raging blaze and windows shattering. The fire started in the rear bedroom of the first floor, Harris said.

“There was no evidence to suggest this fire was caused by an exploding device,” he said.

London’s most recent high-profile case was defending Steve Wasserman, who was charged with the attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend, Susan Rizk, who survived being attacked with a sword. Wasserman eventually pleaded no contest to burglary and aggravated mayhem with use of a deadly weapon and was sentenced in August to seven years to life in prison.

While defense attorneys or those who work in family court are involved in heart-breaking matters, such acts of violence are rare.

In June, a family court judge in Reno was allegedly shot by Darren Mack, who also is accused of killing his wife. The courtroom of Judge Chuck Weller was where a custody hearing was scheduled for September involving the Mack children.

Paul Palant, a South Shore attorney, said he was notified by authorities when a former client was released from prison. In one instance, Palant said he filed a police report detailing the aggressive language from “a real nasty man in a divorce case.”

“My line of work has put me in danger. There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

The danger has never reached the point where Palant thought his family or house are at risk. Palant believed London would have tried to settle any differences with the disgruntled person.

“To light somebody’s house on fire when they’re not home and destroy everything, destroy every memory they have, I can’t imagine the type of person it would take to do that,” Palant said.

Wind could have spread the fire into a dense cluster of trees, said Harris, who stressed residents should clear the perimeters of their homes from forest waste.

“This could have been a much larger fire that could have taken a number of homes,” Harris said.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Greg Almos is hoping the public will have some information to help the case move forward. Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to contact Secret Witness at (530) 541-6800. Callers can be anonymous.

“We just hope some people can come forward with any information they have because we don’t have a whole lot to go on,” Almos said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.