Woman Convicted of Arson for Starting Pe Ell House Fire in October


Debra J. Bridges, 61, of Pe Ell, has pleaded guilty to starting a fire that burned down her residence and has been sentenced to five months in prison, with credit for the 64 days she has served in jail since her arrest on Oct. 14.

Bridges is required to undergo a mental health evaluation while in custody and complete any recommended treatment. She will also serve 12 months in community custody upon her release.

“I believe (the sentence) holds her responsible but takes into account that she has never been in trouble,” said Deputy Prosecutor Scott Jackson during Bridge's sentencing hearing in Lewis County Superior Court on Dec. 8, citing Bridges’ lack of prior felony history.

“The court’s not going to see Ms. Bridges again,” said Bridges’ attorney, David Arcuri, calling Bridges’ actions the day of the fire “an aberration under very unique circumstances.”

Arcuri said Bridges’ case was the third he’s had within the last 10 years involving a defendant accused of burning down their own residence.

“It just comes as a culmination of stresses around their living situations that causes them to take this drastic step,” he said.

While Bridges was initially charged with first-degree arson for causing a fire in the 400 block of Washington Street that destroyed the outbuilding she and another person resided in, Arcuri and Jackson agreed to reduce the charge to second-degree arson based on the circumstances of the case.

Bridges pleaded guilty to the second-degree arson charge on Dec. 8, stating “I knowingly and maliciously started a fire that damaged a building.”

Fire crews were called to respond to reports of a fire at 1:40 p.m. on Oct. 14 and arrived to find the outbuilding fully ablaze.

Based on a preliminary review of the scene, the arson investigator reported the fire began on the east side of the residence in a second-floor bedroom.

The other resident reportedly learned about the fire from his boss at his workplace five blocks away and told fire personnel he suspected Bridges of intentionally starting the fire, as she had reportedly threatened to set the house on fire multiple times before.

When contacted by a deputy, Bridges allegedly said “I lit a paper towel on fire and threw it on the mattress. I didn’t know it was going to go up like that.”

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire and Bridges’ property was the only one damaged. Still, Judge J. Andrew Toynbee reserved the court's right to order Bridges to pay restitution in case any other damage becomes apparent later.

Investigators valued the destroyed property at $40,500.