ELIZABETHTON — An arson investigator with the Carter County Sheriff’s Department blamed an early Sunday morning fire that destroyed a house in the Fitzsimmons Hill area on the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Investigator Travis Ludlow said about half of the home of Ricky and Penny Oliver, 111 Dan Cole Road, was burned in the fire. The remaining half sustained heavy water and smoke damage. Unlike other fires blamed on methamphetamine manufacturing, Ludlow said Sunday’s fire was not caused by an explosion. He said it appears that the remains of a manufacturing operation caused the fire.
“Those chemicals used in the process are still volatile,” Ludlow said.
The first deputy on the scene was Brian Smithpeters. He reported that when he arrived, he spoke with Penny Oliver, who told him she was in a back bedroom when she heard the kitchen window explode and then the lights went out. She found the kitchen on fire.
Smithpeters also spoke with Ricky Oliver, who said he was asleep in the living room and the smell of smoke woke him up.
The Watauga, Stoney Creek and Hampton-Valley Forge volunteer fire departments responded to the emergency. Smithpeters said the heat from the fire was so intense that it damaged the neighboring residence at 113 Dan Cole Road. The siding on the left side of the neighboring house was melted down to expose the wooden beams. The eaves had also burned.
“They did a good job in keeping the fire from spreading to other houses,” Ludlow said of the firefighters.
Sgt. Harmon Duncan of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department said the first firefighters who entered said they saw a plastic bottle in the front bathroom that was identified as the fire’s source. The contents of the bottle reacted to water by catching fire, Duncan said. After the bottle was extinguished, it was identified by Ludlow as a “shake and bake” bottle.
Duncan said he and Ludlow also examined the burned shed, where they found cut lithium batteries, coffee filters, ammonium nitrate, two 16-ounce “gas generators,” a 20-ounce “gas generator,” an empty can of Coleman lantern fuel, a section of clear plastic tubing, green plastic tubing inserted into a Plexiglas sheet placed over a 5-gallon bucket, unrolled lithium strips and a funnel with white residue on it.
Duncan said the home was owned by Ricky Oliver. Records showed that during the past month he had made five purchases of cold medicine containing pseudopedrine, a chemical required to manufacture methamphetamine.
In questioning Oliver, Duncan said Oliver told him he had never purchased psuedoephedrine and that while he allowed others into his home, he was unaware that anyone was manufacturing methamphetamine in his residence.
Duncan charged Ricky Oliver with promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, initiation of the process intended to result in the manufacture of methamphetamine and maintaining a dwelling where illegal narcotics are manufactured or sold.