A man whom officials believe is responsible for starting a fire that destroyed a building on Santa Fe Drive last year was a former handyman in the building and among the victims treated for injuries following the blast, Denver Fire said Monday.
Denver Fire spokesman Greg Pixley said Todd Norman Perkins, 56, was arrested on Monday by Lakewood Police and was being transferred to Denver, where he faces attempted first-degree murder and first-degree arson charges.
Perkins formerly worked at the building but was fired due to “disagreements” with both tenants and business owners, Pixley said. Pixley added he wasn’t sure when Perkins had been let go.
Pixley said while evaluating the site after the fire had been cleared, firefighters noticed one of the victim’s clothing “reeked of gasoline.” It indicated foul play.
Investigators later found three different natural gas lines that had been forced open to allow the gas to flow freely inside the building. Pixely said someone had severed the lines and opened valves before using some kind of ignition to start the flames. He said three cigarette lighters were found on the scene and a box of matches were found adjacent to where the explosion took place. A small gas container was also found near the explosion site.
The building where the explosion took place was a multi-unit apartment complex. Officials believe the fire was started in the basement of one of the units after they said Perkins forced himself inside with the intent of causing the explosion. He allegedly poured gasoline in four different areas before opening the gas lines and igniting the gas. Debris from the explosion damaged surrounding buildings.
Perkins had previously lived legally on-site in a camper on the southeast side of the property.
The August 2018 explosion at at the complex on near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Santa Fe Drive injured nine people, including Perkins. Pixley said Perkins suffered significant burn injuries and was placed in a medically-induced coma.
“The scene was chaotic and catastrophic,” Pixley said during a press conference Monday. “If any of you were there, it looked not unlike a war zone … the amount of devastation and damage that was created from there could have injured or perhaps even killed a number of people.”
Pixley said he was not sure if Perkins intended to target a specific person with the explosion. Perkins was in the basement when the explosion happened, but Pixley said he wasn’t sure if Perkins was intentionally trying to harm himself or if he was accidentally caught in the explosion. Pixley said Perkins’ clothing was “saturated with gasoline.”
Pixley applauded fire investigators for “a tremendous job” of putting together information leading to Perkins arrest. They partnered with the ATF to use accelerant-detection dogs; they also used the department’s own canine, Cora.
“Any time that the fire department is able to put together and have such success with an investigation, we’re extremely proud of our efforts from our fire investigators and the work that they put in for such a positive outcome,” Pixley said.
Pixley said there were no additional suspects at the time.