Investigation continues into deadly blaze |

Investigation continues into deadly blaze

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune file / El Dorado County Sheriff's Department Coroner Pete Van Arnum examines the area near where a fire was suspected of starting, killing a man on Aug. 11.

Detectives are still searching for clues in the death of 51-year-old Jeff Bursha, who was killed more than three months ago in his Park Avenue home by a fire initially considered an arson.

South Lake Tahoe Police detective Mark Tappen said the fire is still labeled as arson. No suspects have been identified. Bursha’s ex-girlfriend was questioned by authorities soon after the blaze.

Two four-inch binders containing information on the case are on his desk, yet Tappen said he needs more time to interview witnesses and obtain more data before confidently submitting the case to the district attorney’s office.

“This is definitely a priority case and it’s being worked on in that manner,” he said.

Despite Tappen’s assertion, Rick Meyers, a fire investigator with the city’s fire department, isn’t sure of the cause or whether it was arson. Meyers acknowledged his part of the investigation is over and the case is in the hands of the police department.

Meyers is sure the fire started at the front of the two-story dwelling that rests at 861 Park Avenue on Aug. 11. Flames crept up the front of the house, singeing trees and melting the front of Bursha’s white suburban.

Windows shattered from extreme heat that was trapped by the enclosed front porch.

A coroner determined Bursha died of smoke inhalation. His body, burned and blistered, was found in the back bathroom, authorities said.

A gas can found on the porch was disregarded as the cause. So was the appearance of faulty wiring at the front of the house. Meyers said an electrical engineer was brought in to inspect the wiring.

“His findings were consistent with my original assumption that the electricity didn’t have anything to do with origin of the fire,” Meyers said. “Right now we don’t have a specific cause.”

Boards have since covered the door and windows of the charred house. Yellow plastic tape indicating a police crime scene was wrapped around the structure. Bits of broken glass, unusable tools in a rusted tool box and melted flower pots were strewn about the porch.

Like his colleagues in the detective unit, Tappen is swamped with cases, including an officer-involved shooting that remains under investigation. Tappen does not know when Bursha’s case will be completed.

– E-mail William Ferchland at

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