West Jordan woman set mother's house ablaze with 8 inside, police say

Published: Monday, June 16 2014 6:15 p.m. MDT

WEST JORDAN — A West Jordan woman was arrested Monday after police say she started a blaze at her mother's home while eight people, including a child, were inside.

April Jackson said her family was preparing a Father's Day breakfast Sunday morning when the fire broke out at 1625 W. 8740 South.

"After everybody was starting to scream, it just started getting smoky and it was, 'OK. We have to get out of here,'" she said.

Jackson's younger sister, Celee Flanigan Riches, 50, was arrested Monday for allegedly causing the fire. She was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of aggravated arson, reckless endangerment and intoxication.

Jackson said the home is her mother's and seven adults and her 3-year-old grandson were in the home when Riches allegedly started the fire in an upstairs bedroom. She said Riches locked the bedroom door and didn't notify anyone else in the home about the blaze.

"She just sat there on the bed," Jackson said Monday. "Her husband had to literally go in and grab her through the smoke and physically take her out of the house."

Riches told responding officers that she fell asleep while smoking on her bed and that when it caught fire, she tried to extinguish the flames. But she told a neighbor that she intentionally flicked ashes on to the bed and "she did this to gain attention," according to a Salt Lake County Jail report.

Several witnesses reported that after she found a key and entered the room, they saw Riches standing in the corner watching the blaze. She then returned to the bed, sat and watched the fire burn, the report states.

"She just sat there and watched it — the whole thing," Jackson said. "There's a lot of drama that goes on in this house, and she was upset and freaking out on everybody, and that's just the way she is."

Fire crews responded to the home around 9:30 a.m. reported finding a bedroom and bathroom ablaze. There was also smoke and heat damage to the upstairs of the home.

Riches was being evicted from the home but had told her daughter that she "was going to burn the house down before she would ever be evicted," according to the report. Jackson said she heard similar threats from her sister.

"I never thought she would actually try to do it, and when it comes right down to it, I don't think she meant for all this to happen. But it just got completely out of control," she said. "I mean, it went up so fast it was scary. We were all just running around like chickens with our heads cut off getting out of the house, making sure we got the animals and my grandson, obviously, first."

After the fire, Riches was transported to the hospital for an evaluation and blood tests indicated her blood-alcohol level was at 0.3, according to the report. She allegedly told officials she had planned to kill herself.

"She had been drinking already. … I think she had been up for a few days — I don't know," Jackson said.

A search of court records indicates that Riches was charged with several unrelated misdemeanors in West Jordan City Justice Court just last week, including criminal mischief, assault and domestic violence in the presence of a child, class B misdemeanors, and intoxication, a class C misdemeanor.

Kim Wells, a spokeswoman for West Jordan, said Riches is also being investigated for domestic assault, domestic violence in the presence of a child and criminal mischief in connection with incidents on Friday and Saturday in which police were called to the residence.

Jackson said she believes that if those in the house hadn't noticed the smoke, Sunday's fire could have cost someone their life.

"She's made us all homeless now. We have no place to live. It's horrible. I think maybe we're still all in shock," she said.

Contributing: Peter Samore, Sandra Yi

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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