Mental health problems, cigarette lighter led to arson

SPOKANE, Wash. - Mental health problems and a cigarette lighter led to an early morning fire Tuesday morning at a North Spokane apartment complex.

The fire started just before 2 a.m., in a unit at an apartment complex at Rowan Avenue and Martin Street.

"We were very fortunate that nobody was killed last night," Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. "We had great first two companies, neighbors that woke up other neighbors."

When fire crews arrived they found that one apartment tenant had never gone to sleep; in fact Ruth Edmonson was fully clothed, including wearing pumps and a ceremonial headdress.

That seemed suspicious because Edmondson told investigators that she was actually in bed and awakened by the sounds of breaking glass and chirping smoke detectors.

North Spokane apartment arson

But once inside the apartment, firefighters found no smoke alarms going off and all the windows intact.

Once they ran Edmonson's name through a police database they found she had just wrapped up a 90-day civil commitment and has some serious mental health problems.

"If that's upheld, and the case moves forward our goal would be to protect the public and have this person remain incarcerated and not out in the general population," Schaeffer said.

Experts say because people who live in apartment buildings can't control the behavior of their fellow tenants it's really important that apartment dwellers invest in both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

"You want to take all the proactive measures possible, like CO detectors, carbon monoxide detectors or smoke detectors, the combination of those two, plus an escape ladder if you live in one of the units above ground is always good," Schaeffer said.

Because this fire, set in the middle of the night, could have easily killed someone, Edmonson's bail was set at $25,000.

However, Spokane Mental Health won't take a suspect to a psychiatric ward if the agency has to post a bond, so the court agreed to drop the bail amount to zero if a mental health agency would accept Edmonson.