Salem man charged with starting fire at west Salem business Dec. 12

A Salem man faces charges alleging he started a fire at a West Salem mortgage broker business earlier this month.

Prosecutors charged Evan L. Webber, 30, with second-degree arson and first-degree criminal mischief in Polk County Circuit Court on Tuesday, court records showed.

Webber is accused of starting a fire in a recycling container at Lighthouse Home Loans, 110 Wallace Rd. N.W., on Dec. 12.

Around 5:30 a.m. that morning, multiple callers passing by the area reported a fire at the business, which sits adjacent to the exit ramp from the Marion Street Bridge, the Salem Police Department wrote in a statement

The suspect set the fire around 5:09 a.m., according to a Salem police affidavit.

Surveillance video shows a man approaching the business, reaching through a fence, opening a plastic recycling container and lighting a piece of cardboard inside before leaving the area.

The video shows the container start to collapse about four minutes later. The fire then spreads to another container, across the ground and up a wall before the camera falls down.

The containers were stored in a covered alcove behind a locked fence at the northwest corner of the building, the affidavit said. The fire ignited the alcove then spread up and out of the building toward its roof line.

“It roared through pretty fast,” said Phil Gerstner, owner of Lighthouse Home Loans.

He told Salem Reporter that the fire entered the building on the first floor and started burning the side of the structure.

Salem police blocked early morning traffic into west Salem for around 15 minutes while crews put out the fire, according to the police statement.

A dispatch report shows the scene was cleared at 8:57 a.m. 

Gerstner said Tuesday that estimates were still pending for repairs on the building and damage to its contents but estimated damages will likely cost over $100,000.

“Basically the entire contents of the building are all not salvageable,” he said.

Before police identified Webber as the suspect, Gerstner said last week that he had never seen the man before.

A person contacted Salem police five days after the incident and identified Webber as the suspect after seeing a news story about the fire. Police looked at state Department of Motor Vehicles photos and confirmed Webber was the suspect, according to the affidavit.

On Dec. 24, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office found Webber at a home in northeast Keizer and transported him to the Salem police station for an interview. Webber denied any involvement in setting the fire to police, the report said.

Webber was booked into Polk County Jail that same day, where he remained as of Tuesday afternoon, the jail’s roster showed.

A trial is scheduled for Feb. 15, 2023, according to court records.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.