providence porch fire

Jeanette Norton shows where a person piled flammable material onto her grill, located on the porch of her Providence home, and lit it on fire by putting all three burners on high.

PROVIDENCE, Utah — Jeanette Norton says she was roused from sleep on her couch just after midnight Sept. 20 when she heard a noise on the front porch of her Providence home.

To her shock and horror, she looked out her window and saw a fire on the other side of the front door, with flames licking the eaves of the porch. Rushing outside to assess the situation, she saw the figure of a lanky man or young man running away, stumbling through obstacles in her yard.

“It was incredible. So scary. If I had been upstairs in my bed asleep, the whole house could have gone up and I could have been trapped,” she said.

After dousing the flames with a garden hose, Norton called 911, and the Cache County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating the incident as arson.

The 20-year Providence resident said she doesn’t want to jump to conclusions, but it’s hard not to wonder if the action was linked to some issue-oriented displays on her property at 200 South and Main Street. These include a rainbow-painted mailbox and a sign that says “Make America Kind Again.”

Cache County Sheriff’s Lt. Mikelshan Bartschi would not speculate on a possible motive but said the incident is being taken seriously.

“At this point, we’re going to consider this an active investigation, and if anyone knows any information that can aid us in this investigation, we would ask them to contact the Cache County Sheriff’s Office at 716-1000,” he said.

The vandalism obviously went beyond the well-known prank of lighting a paper bag on fire on someone’s porch and ringing the doorbell. Norton’s barbecue grill had been rolled from the far side of her wraparound porch, filled with flammable material and turned on high. The contents of the grill included pieces of wood ripped from her porch and outdoor furniture, along with a wreath from the wall.

“The flames were probably like 5 feet high. Luckily it was short-lived because there really wasn’t that much in there. What burned really high was the wreath,” she said.

Nevertheless, the Providence resident thinks the trespasser’s intent was to burn down her 128-year-old wooden house, possibly believing nobody was home at the time.

“I suspect that they might have thought that we weren’t home,” she said, explaining that her husband is on a trip with the family dog and she hasn’t been very visible of late.

Rattled by the incident, Norton had a hard time sleeping that night, even though deputies said they’d keep an eye on her property during their patrols. To deal with the fear, she asked a friend to come over and stay.

The next morning, she went around the neighborhood to ask if anyone had seen anything.

“I feel like we have great neighbors. They’re all appalled at what happened,” she said.

Norton’s somewhat secluded property has experienced vandalism before. Prior to the last presidential election, one of her politically oriented signs was smashed.

“But that doesn’t compare to this in my mind,” she said. “A neighbor said they saw a young boy stomping on the sign. That was a long time ago, and this person was not a little kid.”

Bartschi said although the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t ruled out any possible motive for the action, “our job is to be independent fact finders and look at every angle in what currently appears to be an arson investigation.”