SALT LAKE CITY — When asked why he did it, the man accused of causing a four-alarm fire in downtown Salt Lake City told investigators, "Maybe I wanted to see the fire department."
A federal arson charge was filed Wednesday against Dustin Jay Bowman, 33, of Bountiful. Bowman is accused of intentionally setting a fire on Feb. 9 that destroyed a 64,000-square-foot apartment building under construction at 540 E. 500 South, causing an estimated $6 million in damage.
When interviewed by investigators, Bowman said he was at the construction site smoking Spice when he lit a crumpled piece of cardboard on fire and tossed it under a bathtub that was enclosed in a cardboard box and leaning against a wooden wall, according to the federal complaint.
"Bowman claimed if he intended to start a fire, then it was only to start a small fire, perhaps involving one or two apartments," the complaint stated.
Arson investigators confirmed that the fire started in a first floor apartment on the south end of the building.
Burning embers from the fire also damaged the roof of the nearby Smith's grocery store. The business suffered additional damage when it rained and water went through the damaged roof into the store, according to the federal charge.
The dental offices next to the construction site also suffered "substantial water and smoke damage," the report states.
Based on surveillance video gathered from nearby businesses, investigators believe Bowman first arrived at the construction site about 5:22 p.m on Feb. 9. By 5:45 p.m., a surveillance video camera recorded Bowman walking along 500 South away from the building, according to charging documents. At 5:46 p.m., smoke began rising from the building, according to the complaint.
On Feb. 13, an investigator from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives interviewed the electrician foreman of the construction project. The foreman brought one of his electricians with him, who happened to be Bowman, court documents state. The two were then shown the surveillance video.
"The electrical foreman remarked that the person in the video resembled Bowman," according to the complaint.
Bowman hesitated and denied it was he, even though the investigator also noted there was a resemblance.
"Bowman appeared anxious when confronted with his resemblance to the suspect in the video," the complaint stated.
Later that night, Bowman texted the ATF agent and said he had information about the video that he could not share earlier, according to the charging documents. The next day, Bowman met with investigators and told them he went to the construction site to smoke Spice but did not enter the building under construction, the complaint stated.
He then claimed he had grabbed a pile of insulated wire and set a piece of cardboard on fire and had "intended to burn the insulation off the wire so he could sell the copper for scrap. According to Bowman, the fire got out of control and he was unsuccessful at stomping it out," according to the federal complaint.
But investigators determined that Bowman's story and the evidence did not match up. On Feb. 15, they him again and placed him under arrest after he told them about wanting to see the fire department.
Prior to his arrest, on what appears to be his Facebook page, Bowman posted three photos labeled "downtown fire aftermath" the day after the blaze and included a link to a news story about it.
"Guess I'm not working Monday," one post states. "New House apartment complex construction burnt down. Anybody want to hire an electrician for a day or two? Maybe the boss has some temp power to hook up somewhere or something. Can't really afford a day off."
Bowman was scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Thursday. If convicted, he faces a mandatory five years in federal prison and could serve up to 20 years.
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