SECOND UPDATE: The Arcata police and fire departments issued a joint press release today stating that their joint investigation has revealed that 52-year-old Kelly Maureen Nichols likely started the fire that ultimately took her life in Arcata on Sept. 10. Further, the investigation found that, after the fire began, neighbors attempted to talk Nichols into leaving her apartment but she refused to "come out of the burning structure."
See the departments' full press release below.
UPDATE: The woman found deceased in a burned apartment in Arcata has been identified as 52-year-old Kelly Maureen Nichols, according to a news release from Humboldt County Coroner Dave Parris.
PREVIOUSLY: Officials have identified the woman killed in an Arcata apartment fire that appears to have been intentionally set Wednesday, but are withholding her name until they can notify her family.
Arcata Fire responded to a structure fire at about 1 p.m. on Thursday in an apartment complex in the 2200 block of Alliance Road. Crews arrived to find flames showing in front of the building, with smoke coming from two units. Informed someone might be inside one of the units, Arcata Fire Protection District crews searched the apartments and found the deceased woman.
Multiple agencies worked to extinguish the fire, which damaged three units. No one else was injured in the blaze, which is now under a joint investigation by the Arcata Police Department and AFPD.
Humboldt County Coroner Dave Parris said the deceased woman was living at the residence with her boyfriend. He said his office is working to schedule an autopsy in the case “but, at the present time, we’re not seeing anything suspicious. Of course, that can change.”
Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman said the initial investigation indicates the fire was intentionally set inside the apartment of the deceased, but cautioned that determination is based on an initial review, and hasn’t been confirmed.
“When you have a fire with a fatality, it’s a potential homicide, so we’re treating it as that,” Chapman said, adding that he was stopping short of officially calling it a “homicide investigation” at this time. “Determining who set the fire is obviously the priority at this point, and I don’t want to speculate on that.”
Chapman said no signs of trauma were apparent on the deceased woman when she was found by authorities.
AFPD spokeswoman Jenny Williamson said the department will issue an updated press release as more information is confirmed.
See the full AFPD press release below:
On September 10, 2014, at about 1306 hours, the Arcata Police Department responded with the Arcata Fire Protection District to a structure fire at an apartment complex located within the 2200 block of Alliance Road in Arcata.
As the fire department extinguished the fire, they located a deceased adult female within the apartment where the fire appeared to originate. The female was later identified as Kelly Nichols (52 years) of Arcata. She was confirmed to be the lone occupant of the apartment.
A joint investigation was conducted by investigators from the Arcata Police Department, Arcata Fire Protection District and the Humboldt County Coroner's Office. The fire appears to have been started by Nichols inside of her apartment. After the fire began, neighbors attempted to convince Nichols to leave the apartment. Nichols refused to come out of the burning structure.
Anyone with information regarding this investigation is encouraged to call the Arcata Police Department at 707-822-2428 or the Arcata Fire Protection District at 707-825-2000.
The initial release after the incident:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 10, 2014
Jenny Williamson, Fire Prevention Specialist
Arcata Fire Protection District
Multi-unit Structure Fire with Fatality
Arcata, CA- (September 10, 2014)- At approximately 1:00 p.m. this afternoon Arcata Fire Protection District was dispatched to a structure fire at a multi-unit residence on the 2200 block of Alliance Road. Upon arrival the first in officer reported heavy black smoke coming from the back of the residence from one unit and light gray smoke coming from a second unit with flames showing in the front of the structure. It was reported that one of the apartments was occupied at the time of the fire. AFPD conducted a search of the units and at that time crews found the deceased in one of the apartments. A total of three units were damaged by the fire. The fire is currently under a joint investigation by AFPD and Arcata Police Department. No other injuries have been reported.
Multiple agencies assisted in extinguishing this fire. “Without the assistance of neighboring agencies this fire would have been difficult to extinguish,” explains Battalion Chief Campbell. AFPD responded with four engines and two chief officers and 14 firefighters. Humboldt Bay Fire responded with one chief officer and one engine, Blue Lake Fire District responded with one chief officer and one engine, Cal Fire responded with two engines to assist with coverage in the AFPD area. APD is assisting with the investigation, PG&E assisted with securing the utilities, and Arcata – Mad River Ambulance also responded.
With this tragedy AFPD would like to remind everyone to be sure you have a home escape plan and to practice your plan. “Part of reviewing your home escape plan is to ensure you have working smoke alarms in each sleeping room and to test them once a month,” explains Fire Prevention Specialist Jenny Williamson.