By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A fire in an east end residence this week was likely caused by arson, Havre police said Wednesday.
The fire started in a bedroom of a house in the 1600 block of Second Street on Monday morning. It caused extensive smoke damage and displaced the two men who rented the house, Assistant Police Chief George Tate said.
Assistant Fire Chief Tim Ranes called the fire "highly suspicious."
Vandalism to the interior of the house prior to the fire suggests the blaze was not accidental, Tate said.
"There was extensive vandalism done to two of the rooms," Tate said "They basically trashed two of the bedrooms, ripped open dressers, tore holes in the walls and broke some of the bottles."
Police are investigating whether the fire was related to an argument that occurred at the house between a resident and a guest as a drinking party was ending Sunday night, Tate said.
Five to eight people were at the party, Tate said. Police have interviewed a number of them, and several have given different accounts of the argument, he added.
Police have identified several potential suspects, but no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, Tate said.
Police also found a vehicle parked in a nearby alley that appears to be the target of an attempted arson, Tate said.
"There was an older model pickup that had not been moved in some time and someone tried to start it on fire," he said. "I suspect that whoever attempted to burn the house down also attempted to burn the pickup. Some evidence we found at the vehicle linked it to the house party."
Police sent evidence to the State Crime Lab to analyze for use of accelerants.
"We strongly suspect arson. Without the verification from the crime lab, we can't say for sure, but it's a real strong probability," Tate said.