MONTROSE – When a fire damaged the Affordable Inn on South Townsend Ave. late in the afternoon of April 30, several guests were affected, and now one of them has been arrested on suspicion of first-degree arson.
Ronnie Lee Barrett, 54, who allegedly started the fire because he was angry about being evicted from the motel, which houses some of the area’s homeless, was arrested by Montrose police on Aug. 16.
Barrett is being held at the Montrose County jail with a bond of $50,000 on suspicion of first-degree arson, said Cmdr. Gene Lillard.
“He was a person of interest from the very beginning,” Lillard said.
The owners of the motel, John and Jody Holland, did not return phone calls this week, but they said shortly after the fire they were thankful that no one was injured and the Montrose Fire Department quickly contained the fire, which started in a second story storeroom. One guest, however, who had health problems, was taken to Montrose Memorial Hospital to be checked for possible smoke inhalation.
Although one wing of rooms was closed after the fire, the motel has stayed open, with the registration desk currently in an outdoor “office,” an enclosed tent with a big sign stating the motel is open for business.
According to the fire department, the fire was primarily contained to the storage room over the front office. The two-story L-shaped building is connected to an adjoining building with a dozen guest rooms, and about six occupants were moved to another part of the motel, said Jody Holland. She said her manager acted quickly to alert guests and call 911.
The storeroom where the fire started contained clothing and other items used by the Hollands in their homeless program; at the time of the fire they were housing about 90 individuals, said John Holland.
This past spring, Montrose County saw the opening of its first homeless shelter, Haven House in Olathe, for homeless families, but the need is great in town, the Hollands say.
The motel uses a sliding scale, or reduced rate, for homeless tenants, but according to the arrest affidavit, Barrett was being evicted for owing back rent.
Barrett’s roommate told police that Barrett had threatened to burn down the building earlier on the day of the fire and was angry at being evicted because he said he had done work around the motel for the owners. According to the affidavit, Barrett was behind on his rent by about $600, according to the roommate, who was also being evicted.
But neither man had left the property yet, and Barrett had help set up a yard sale earlier in the day to benefit the homeless, according to court documents. Later, according to the affidavit, Barrett and his roommate starting drinking vodka, and both seemed inebriated by the time police and the fire department responded to reports of the fire.
One motel tenant,a witness to the fire, said he also heard Barrett making threats. The witness said when the fire started, he thought about the people who were living in the hotel.
“That’s where Ron messed up,” he said. “He thought he would get even with everybody,” the witness said, according to court papers.
In the arrest affidavit, Brown stated that Jeffrey Long of Phoenix Investigations, which had been hired by Farmers Insurance, the motel’s insurer, also investigated the fire. Both investigations reached the same conclusion, and Brown wrote that Barrett “knowingly set fire to, burned and caused damage to an occupied structure of another….”
The Hollands had recently switched to Farmers and increased coverage, but not by a substantial amount, Brown wrote.
In addition the accounts of witnesses as to Barrett’s actions the day of the fire, investigators also found a charred chair in a closet where it wasn’t supposed to be, and “remnants of wood matches” that are being analyzed for traces of DNA by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.