By AMY LINDBLOM
A California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention investigator has said arson caused the Dec. 10 fire that destroyed much of the Twain Harte Inn.
Few details are being released while the arson is still under investigation, said the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department and the Tuolumne County District Attorney's Office.
Richard Imlach, CDF battalion chief said the fire started in several locations at once, leading him to believe it could not have been accidental.
"It was determined to be arson and we're still continuing an investigation into it at this point," Imlach said. "But it's more focused on trying to find who did it."
When the downtown Twain Harte landmark burned, eight people who lived in first-floor apartments and motel rooms were left homeless.
More than 60 firefighters from Sonora to Pinecrest battled the blaze throughout the night after the first 911 call came in about 10 p.m. It was not extinguished until 8 a.m. the next day.
Chief Bob Kampvanee of the Twain Harte Community Services District Fire Department, who commanded the fire attack, said on the night of the fire that it appeared the blaze started in the lower level of the main building, where the apartments were located.
The Inn was owned by Elizabeth Bally, who purchased the property in March. On the night of the fire, Bally's husband, Mike Dabkowski, told a Union Democrat reporter he was down the street from the Inn when he saw several sheriff's cars whiz by, and had a sinking feeling they were going to the Inn.
Dabkowski also said that before the Inn burned, it had been burglarized.
And a former manager living downstairs near where the fire started had just been given an eviction notice by Dabkowski and Bally.
When contacted yesterday about Imlach's ruling, Dabkowski said he and his wife had no comment.
Imlach said this investigation is one of the most complicated he has ever worked on.