House fire leaves 1 dead |

House fire leaves 1 dead

William Ferchland

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Evidence technician Robert Humphrey makes a recording of the upstairs area.

The body of a South Lake Tahoe man was discovered in the downstairs bathroom of a Park Avenue house after a late-night fire charred the front of the residence.

Authorities initially treated the fire as murder by arson after a gas can was found on the porch but later ruled the unknown cause as “suspicious.”

The man’s body was discovered during a sweep of the two-story residence.

His name was not released until next of kin is notified.

A woman authorities referred to as the man’s ex-girlfriend was brought in for questioning but was not arrested as of 4:15 p.m., said South Lake Tahoe police Sgt. Brian Williams.

“We’re definitely comfortable with the origin of the fire but the cause is suspicious,” said South Lake Tahoe fire Capt. Rick Myers.

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Firefighters received a call of flames and heavy smoke at 861 Park Avenue on Thursday at 12:15 a.m. Fire spread quickly from the porch to the front of the house and burst inside through three street-facing windows, authorities said.

A tall pine tree was scorched and the front end of a white Suburban melted.

Scott Douglass, battalion chief for the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, said it took less than five minutes to extinguish visible flames.

“If there could be a run-of-the-mill structure fire, this is it,” Douglass said.

A sweep by inspecting firefighters found the man on the floor and his pet rabbit dead in a cage. Both were in the bathroom.

Neighbors and friends said the man, a real estate agent, was well liked. He recently celebrated his birthday with friends, a neighbor said.

Sgt. Williams said faulty wiring at the front of the house also could have caused the fire and is an “investigative concern.” An air conditioner was on the front porch, Williams said.

“It looked like a lot of this was jury-rigged or self-spliced,” he said.

Myers, a fire investigator, discarded the gas can and the wiring as the cause.

“It never looked like the gas can was involved to me,” he said. “There was some wiring suspect but I think we ruled all that out basically.”

“At this point it’s still under investigation,” Myers added. “We have to do some more interviews.”

An autopsy was scheduled for Friday morning.

The house is located on the corner of Park Avenue and Greenwood Road near Lakeside Beach. During the day while authorities combed the scene beachgoers, joggers, families and traffic gawked while passing the house.

Neighbor Sher Eymann witnessed the fire from her friend’s house.

“It was horrible. All the neighbors were out,” she said. “We were out here until 4 in the morning.”

The last fatal house fire in South Lake Tahoe was 19 years ago when a flames caught a house on Lakeview Drive and killed one person, Myers said.

Further information will be posted on as it becomes available.

Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department or Secret Witness at (530) 541-6800.

– E-mail William Ferchland at