A replica “ghost town” on a property in Patterson that the owners spent decades creating burned to the ground in an arson fire early Tuesday morning.
“The family that lives there are long-time residents of Patterson and over the years they built a mini-ghost town,” said Patterson and West Stanislaus Fire Chief Jeff Gregory. “Kind of like you are walking down the streets of Columbia (State Historic Park), but a miniature version of that,”
The adult son of the couple who own the property has been arrested in connection with the fire.
Behind their three-story Victorian house overlooking the San Joaquin River on Ash Avenue, they’d built a saloon, complete with a poker table and bar; a blacksmith shop full of antique welding equipment and an A-frame church.
There are other buildings and train tracks that weave through the property that carry a Thomas The Tank Engine-themed train for children to ride.
The man who lives there told investigators he built it all for his grandchildren and other family and friends to enjoy.
The fire that broke out at 12:46 a.m. Tuesday destroyed the saloon, blacksmith shop and church.
Gregory said firefighters’ priority was keeping the fire from spreading to the home, which was only about 20 feet away.
The fire burned so hot it melted the plastic on the side mirrors of the department’s fire engine, he said. A firefighter also suffered a burn to his shoulder.
Later Tuesday morning, fire investigators with the Stanislaus Regional Fire Investigation Unit returned to the property and arrested the couple’s son, 49-year-old Jon Raymond Washburn, on suspicion of arson and an enhancement for using an accelerant.
Dustin Bruley, who supervises the unit, said Washburn lives in a trailer on the property.
“He made a statement admitting to starting the fire; he said he used flammable liquid and ignited it using a butane torch,” Bruley said. “Investigators gathered evidence … that matched the admission he gave investigators at the scene.”
Bruley would not say what reason Washburn gave for starting the fire, but said he suffered from mental health issues. Washburn’s parents could not be reached Wednesday.
In addition to the three buildings that were destroyed, there was some heat and smoke damage to the home, as well as several travel trailers and other structures. Bruley estimated the cost of the damage at about $300,000.
Washburn is being held in Stanislaus County Jail with bail set at $200,000. A court date has not yet been set., pending the filing of formal charges.