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Fire caves in roof of Pine Street home

Elko fire crews work to put out a house fire at 403 Pine St. on the night of April 10, 2019. The fire spread from the first floor to the attic.

ELKO – An Elko homeowner was arrested Wednesday morning for first degree arson following an investigation into an April 10 fire at his residence on Pine Street.

William J. Armstrong, 42, is charged with starting the fire at his home, which was declared a public nuisance by the City of Elko in December.

Firefighters responded to 403 Pine St. at approximately 11:15 p.m. after witnesses called to report flames visible from the home.

“The home suffered significant fire, heat, smoke and water damage as well as a collapse of the roof into the second story,” Deputy Fire Chief Jack Snyder said.

No injuries were reported, and no one was in the home at the time, Snyder said. Firefighters were able to prevent damage to adjacent homes.

Elko Police and Fire departments conducted an investigation with the cooperation of the Elko District Attorney’s Office, and a warrant was issued for Armstrong on May 9.

According to a detective’s report, Armstrong told police he was using a torch to clean his meth pipe, and he set the lit torch down in the corner of his room next to a blanket and some clothes. He went outside and smoked two cigarettes, and when he came back inside the house was on fire.

Armstrong said he could only find a half-full fire extinguisher, and he left the building without calling the fire department. The fire had been going for 45 minutes to an hour before firefighters arrived, he said.

Later, Armstrong reportedly told detectives he used the torch to set a blanket on fire because people were taking things from his house, and he thought lighting the fire “would stop them from taking his stuff.”

The city started receiving complaints about the residence in February 2018. The issue came up for a hearing at the Dec. 11 Elko City Council meeting. Neighbors told the council that over the years they watched as old vehicles, trash and debris piled up around the home.

The property was declared a public nuisance and Armstrong was ordered to clean up the trash and old cars that littered the home.

Armstrong’s bail amount on the arson charge was listed at $50,000.

According to Elko Daily Free Press files, Armstrong has been arrested multiple times in the past year.

He was arrested in March for failure to appear in court after bail on a misdemeanor crime. He was arrested in June 2018 on charges of burglary; petit larceny; buying, possessing or receiving stolen property; and trespassing.

Armstrong also was arrested twice in May 2018. Charges included grand larceny of an automobile and buying, possessing or receiving stolen property.

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