An early morning house fire June 1 was immediately seen as suspicious.
“When I got on scene the duty officer related information that we possibly had a suspicious fire going on,” said Brian Gates, Paris fire chief.
The Paris Fire Department was dispatched at 2:48 a.m. Saturday, June 1, to 325 Sutherland. Gates said upon arrival they encountered a two-story house, which he described as showing heavy flames on the first floor.
Firefighters made an initial interior attack and started a search for victims because cars were parked in the drive. Fortunately, no one was in the house at the time of the fire, but firefighters did not know that, and it took some time to clear up the confusion.
“He (the owner) was somewhere else and was notified of the fire by a neighbor is my understanding,” said Gates.
The owner arrived on scene just as Gates was preparing to enter the building to start another search as relief to firefighters who had already been through the building. The owner confirmed he was the only person who lived in the house, although another man sometimes stayed there and the whereabouts of that individual was unknown. It was possible, the owner said, he might be in the house.
All three shifts of the Paris Fire Department were at the scene fighting the fire, and firefighters from the Vermilion Station of the Paris Community Fire Protection District came in to cover the Paris station in case of another call.
Gates said the Red Cross was summoned to assist the homeowner, since the house was a total loss.
The Horizon Health ambulance was also on scene. Ambulance personnel oversaw the rehabilitation of firefighters and kept them hydrated.
“Less than three hours after taking over the ambulance service they had a large structure fire,” said Gates. “They did very well.”
Firefighters were on scene for several hours fighting the fire. They got back to station shortly after 6 a.m., but some department personnel remained on scene to guard the site until the state fire marshal arrived.
The joint investigation between the fire marshal, the Paris Fire Department and the Paris Police Department quickly confirmed the suspicious nature of the fire and investigators began zeroing in on a suspect. Gates confirmed the homeowner was never considered as a suspect.
Gates said evidence gathered at the scene and interviews with the public in the vicinity was a big help to the investigation.
“It was a lot of the public help that helped us get to this point,” said Gates.
Paris Police Officer Jesse Lewsader confirmed late Monday afternoon, June 3, that an arrest was made earlier in the day.
He said police charged Sierra A. Maus, 28, Paris, with residential arson. Authorities did not have to look far to find Maus as she was in the Edgar County Jail on a domestic battery charge from an incident that occurred after the fire on Saturday, June 1.
“The evidence collected and witness statements support probable cause for the arrest,” said Lewsader.
According to investigators, the crime appears motivated by a debt of money Maus believes is owed to her.
The defendant made an initial appearance Wednesday, June 5, in Edgar County Circuit Court for a reading of the Class 1 felony residential arson charge and a bond hearing. The court found sufficient probable cause exists to sustain the charge and set bond at $50,000. The case was assigned to the public defender and the matter was continued for a first appearance with counsel.