BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana mobile home fire that left four people dead began when two men lit an apron on fire in the kitchen while the victims slept following a party, according to court documents filed Friday.
Preliminary autopsy results showed all four victims died of smoke inhalation, authorities said. Three bodies were found in bedrooms and one in the mobile home's dining room.
Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder identified the victims as Donavon Fogle, 25, Troy Saylor, 28, Brandi Hansen Moats, 25, and Amber Marie Beyers, 33. All four were from Billings.
Two men arrested Thursday night in the case each face four counts of negligent homicide and one count of felony arson.
The suspects – Zaccary John Kern and Robert Eric Bottenhagen, both 21 and from Billings – were being held at the Yellowstone County Jail. It was uncertain if they had retained attorneys.
Probable cause affidavits filed by Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said both men admitted during interviews with investigators to being at a party at the residence earlier in the night. Kern denied further involvement, according to the documents.
But a female witness who picked up the two suspects said that after leaving the party, the men discussed having lit an apron on fire after the others at the home went to sleep, the affidavits said.
"Both stated to this witness that they thought they had put the apron out before leaving the residence," the affidavit said. "At one point (they) drove back to the residence and observed the fire and the emergency vehicles. Both of them panicked and state that they could not believe this was happening."
Linder said further tests will be done to confirm the cause of death. There were no signs of trauma or bodily injuries to the victims, the affidavits said.
Firefighters were called to the mobile home in Lockwood, just northeast of Billing, shortly after 4 a.m. Thursday. They arrived as smoke and flames came from what appeared to be the kitchen area, The Billings Gazette reported.
Crews entered the residence and got the fire under control in about 10 minutes, Lockwood Fire Chief Bill Rash said.
Deputies later obtained a search warrant and removed the four bodies found in the home Thursday afternoon. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation, and friends and family of the victims gathered near the scene throughout the day.
Linder said detectives still were trying to piece together the relationship between the suspects and victims.
"I don't' believe any of them lived at the residence," Linder told The Associated Press Friday. "Whether they ran in the same circles, or just happened to be acquaintances or friends, those are things we're trying to discover through the investigation.
He added the charges against Kern and Bottenhagen were subject to change, pending further investigation.
Twito declined to comment beyond the information contained in the court affidavits.
The night of the fire, neighbor Troy Donges told the Gazette he was awakened by his son, who had been listening to music when he heard a loud bang. The son looked out the window and saw flames at the mobile home across the street.
Donges said he went to the burning trailer and banged on the side of it to test the heat and wake up anybody who might be inside.
"I was hitting the trailer as hard as I could with my hand," Donges said. "There was so much smoke in there, I don't know how anybody could've survived. People told me every time I hit it, it sounded like a gunshot, and it woke them up."
Dale Holthues, who lives next door, said his wife called 911 while he ran to the mobile home. He tried to kick in two different doors but couldn't get them open and received no response from inside.
"We could not get any results," he said. "I don't know if they were sleeping or what."