Philomath man faces felony arson charge for weekend incident

A resident of a Philomath boarding house faces a felony arson charge connected to an incident that occurred Sunday afternoon at an address on North Eighth Street.

Michael Lee Marquis, 43, of Philomath, was arraigned in Benton County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon on one count of first-degree arson and four misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.

Michael Lee Marquis (Photo by Benton County Sheriff’s Office)

The Philomath Police Department reported that there were at least four others in the house during the incident, including Marquis’s wife. A resident used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire, which was crawling up a wall in the home’s only bathroom, located near the top of the stairs on the second floor. Smoke alarms alerted others to the fire.

“The way I understand it, on the opposite side of the wall was another tenant’s bedroom, and so had it gone up into the ceiling or through that wall and into the other bedroom, that could’ve been a big problem,” Philomath Police Lt. Dave Gurski said. “Or, if it had gone out into the hallway … where you come up the stairs, if that landing would’ve been engulfed and there were people upstairs, it would’ve been hard to get downstairs.”

Philomath Fire & Rescue responded, and according to Capt. Rich Saalsaa, assisted with making sure the fire did not extend any further than the point of origin. No injuries were reported.

Gurski said it was the first case involving arson charges since 2008. That year, local police responded to a fire at the old Denny’s car wash on Main Street that resulted in a second-degree arson charge against a juvenile.

The boarding house where the fire occured is one of 11 housing units in Philomath operated by Harriet Hughes. Philomath Police arrived on the scene at 1:33 p.m. Officer Brandon Thurman reported that he could smell smoke coming from the house’s upstairs bathroom.

“I opened the door and I could see the shower was running and the east wall in the bathroom was black and had obviously just been on fire before it was put out by one of the people living in the house,” Thurman wrote in an affidavit of probable cause filed with the Benton County district attorney’s office.

According to the affidavit, Marquis told police that he started the fire because “people were holding him hostage and he locked himself in the bathroom, then lit the fire so we would see the smoke and then come help him.”

Marquis, described by police as erratic and hard to understand, also reportedly told police that he took oatmeal packets out of the bathroom garbage and lit them on fire. However, Thurman said a trash can was not found in the bathroom and the evidence suggested something else had been ignited, possibly toilet paper.

Following the arrest, Thurman reported that Marquis admitted to using methamphetamine for the past several days.

Benton County Deputy District Attorney Kareem Walcott is handling the prosecution for the state. Corvallis attorney Mike Flinn was appointed as defense counsel. On Tuesday, Flinn said that he would have no comment since he was just appointed to the case.

Not guilty pleas were entered for all charges and Marquis remained in jail on $50,000 bail. A hearing in Benton County Circuit Court is scheduled for Thursday morning.

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