If Diane Child could say just one thing to the man suspected of setting fire to her business, it would be this: “What were you thinking?”
The owner of Skyline Storage is still reeling from the impacts of an alleged arson last month that damaged 10 units and an office at her 73-unit facility. No one was injured during the incident, but Child said the week-old incident upended her life, as well as the lives of her tenants.
“One thing that keeps coming to my mind is how the lives of these people – including myself – have been affected,” she said.
The Grand County Sheriff’s Office arrested Edward “Dawson” Moddrelle last week on suspicion of second-degree felony arson. The 52-year-old Moab man, who was released from the Grand County Jail after he posted $10,000 bail, will likely make his first appearance in Seventh District Court on the next available date. However, no date had been set as of Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Thirteen firefighters first responded to a report of a fire at the facility about three miles south of downtown Moab just after 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24.
“When they got there, one storage unit right in the middle was fully engulfed in flames,” Moab Valley Fire Department Chief Phil Mosher said.
The team opened the other storage units in the same wing to ensure that the fire hadn’t extended elsewhere, and Mosher said they kept the flames from spreading further.
“They did a great job of putting it out so it didn’t get to the other units,” he said.
Once the smoke subsided and everything was brought under control, firefighters quickly determined that the blaze did not appear to be accidental.
“It looked suspicious at the time, so we turned it over to the sheriff’s office and the state fire marshal’s office to determine the cause,” Mosher said.
Grand County Sheriff’s Lt. Kim Neal said the incident appears to be linked to a personal dispute.
“It was a domestic issue, but it’s still under investigation,” he said.
Grand County Sheriff’s investigator Nate Whitney said that video surveillance from Skyline Storage shows a vehicle entering the property. A man that authorities identified as Moddrelle gets out of the vehicle, opens the door to the unit and throws something inside, according to Whitney.
“Less than two minutes later, the unit was on fire,” he said.
Child left the office and went to work at her nearby home shortly before Moddrelle allegedly drove onto the property. About 20 minutes later, she said, the Moab Valley Fire Department contacted her to report that a section of the storage facility was on fire.
“I looked up, and I’d never seen anything like it,” she said.
After firefighters mopped up the blaze, Child learned that the I-beams inside the unit where the fire originated had melted due to the intense heat from the flames. While the fire gutted that storage unit, it also damaged nine other spaces at the 73-unit facility – as well as the office where Child had been working.
“Some of it was smoke damage and some of it was burn damage,” Whitney said.
Neal said that investigators are still trying to determine the estimated dollar value of the tenants’ combined losses.
“I don’t think we have a total from all of the other units,” Neal said. “We’re still waiting for that information.”
As Child meets with the affected tenants one by one, she’s been asking them to make a list of any belongings that were damaged or destroyed, with the hope that a record of the inventory could be used in court.
“If they order him to pay restitution, there might be an outside chance that they are compensated,” she said.
Moab Folk Festival founder and director Melissa Schmaedick was the first tenant to show up at the scene, after Child phoned her and told her what happened.
The festival’s unit is directly to the right of the unit where the fire originated, and Schmaedick placed the damage to her space alone at somewhere between $5,000 and $6,000.
“Fortunately, we still had a lot of our supplies at our office in town, so it could have been a lot worse,” she said.
Even so, the festival lost numerous items in the blaze, from greenroom furniture, lighting and rugs to a majority of its historic files.
“I think that out of about 15 boxes (of files), we have three or four that were salvageable,” she said.
None of the folk festival’s belongings were insured, so to help cover the costs of cleaning, moving or replacing the items, Schmaedick set up a GoFundMe account at www.gofundme.com/tqcq7yes.
“We have only been able to afford the bare minimum, and insurance on storage for us was not an option,” she said.
As for the other tenants who are affected, Child has since learned that Skyline Storage’s insurance company will not compensate them for any losses they sustained.
“They’re going to cover the buildings only,” Child said.
Schmaedick is relieved that no one was hurt during the blaze, but she said her heart goes out to the woman whose unit was allegedly targeted. She noticed children’s toys and children’s books among the wreckage, and she suspects that the woman was right in the middle of a major move.
“Her whole life was in her storage unit,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what she’s going through … This happened at the worst possible time, during winter and right before the holidays.”
Schmaedick is also concerned about the possible short-term impacts to Child’s business.
“For Diane, what it means is potentially a loss of income when everything has to be cleaned out or repaired,” she said.
Child anticipates that she will likely take a financial hit, but she chalks it up to the cost of doing business.
“I’m more worried about my tenants,” she said.
Most of them have been with her for the last 10 to 12 years, and she called them model tenants.
“They’ve all paid on time, which in the storage business is a rarity,” she said.
All of them have been extremely kind and understanding about the situation, she said, and she doesn’t want to see them leave.
If they do, they’re unlikely to return. However, she worries that other storage facilities in the community may not have enough room to accommodate them.
One week after the fire, Child said she’s trying to keep her sense of humor intact.
“But it’s kind of hard,” she said. “It’s stressful.”
If the case goes to trial, Child said she plans to sit in on the proceedings to bear witness. In the event that Moddrelle is convicted, she’s alarmed by the possibility that he could be sentenced to probation, without serving any additional time in jail or state prison.
“If he gets off with a slap on the wrist, I’m going to have to take further action,” she said.
She’s hoping it won’t come to that, though, because of the additional costs, stresses and uncertainties that she would likely face.
Ultimately, Child suspects the incident will forever change Moddrelle, who is presumed to be innocent under the law unless a court formally convicts him of a crime.
“I would imagine that this has probably ruined his entire life, and I feel bad about that,” she said. “But I can’t imagine what he was thinking. You’re going to impact lots of other lives when you do something like that.”
Local man arrested; Authorities say incident linked to domestic dispute
I would imagine that this has probably ruined his entire life, and I feel bad about that … But I can’t imagine what he was thinking. You’re going to impact lots of other lives when you do something like that.
Anyone who would like to volunteer with the cleanup of the damaged storage units can call Diane Child at 435-260-9053; she asks people not to phone her after 8 p.m.