The explosion that leveled a hilltop home near Lost Creek Lake nearly three years ago had originated from a wide-open valve on a propane tank, prosecutors said Tuesday during an arson trial of the home’s occupant.
Michael Charles McNall, charged with arson and attempted aggravated theft in the April 9, 2016, explosion, had been in a years-long property dispute with his stepmother over the 4,569-foot-home McNall had helped build with his father in about 2005, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Melissa LeRitz said in her opening statement.
McNall had purchased renters insurance two months prior to the home’s destruction, LeRitz said. Before that, the home at 225 Flounce Rock Road in Prospect had gone uninsured for more than four years, she said.
The fire started with an uncapped ball valve on a propane tank in the garage, LeRitz said, divulging the origin of the fire for the first time. She described the uncapped valve as something that “had to have been removed by a human.”
LeRitz told the jury that fire investigators and detectives will testify that the fuel would’ve taken about 20 minutes to attain its “lower explosive limit” needed to reach an ignition source. She told the jury that an independent investigation from Safeco insurance corroborates the State Fire Marshal’s Office investigation.
In 2005, the home’s $300,000 mortgage was originally in the name of McNall and his father, Charles McNall. When Charles McNall died in 2007, the mortgage moved to his widow, Suzy Ann McNall of Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Michael McNall had made mortgage payments to Wells Fargo for years on the home, but stopped making payments in about April 2014, LeRitz said.
Suzy McNall testified she learned the home was in foreclosure in fall 2015.
In February 2016, Suzy McNall paid $55,000 to take the home out of foreclosure, but ordered Wells Fargo not to accept deposits on the loan from Michael McNall. She testified that she made mortgage payments in March and April 2016 and that the property was appraised at about $800,000.
Michael McNall told police the day of the explosion that two men wearing white approached his home while he was doing suspension work on his Jeep, according to recordings of police interviews shared with the jury Tuesday.
Aside from describing them as Caucasian, McNall couldn’t provide any other features of the men, who he said came onto his property roughly two hours before he left to meet his wife for a beer at Opposition Brewing in Medford.
McNall told police the men wanted to serve paperwork on him from about 150 yards away. McNall told them they were trespassing and brandished a firearm.
Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Craig Rice, who was an arson detective in 2016, asked McNall questions about the men’s ages and appearance, including what they were wearing, but McNall had no descriptions for police.
“I couldn’t even tell you what color hair they had, or if they were wearing hats,” McNall told Rice in an April 10, 2016, interview.
During testimony given by neighbor Charles Berg, a retired Fresno fire investigator who took video of the fire, McNall’s lawyer, John Kolego of Eugene, asked Berg whether he smelled propane at the scene. Berg said he did not smell the fuel.
Berg and another nearby neighbor, Mary Lewis-Mason, both described hearing large explosions just after 8 p.m. the day of the fire, saying it caused items to fall from tables and objects mounted on the wall to fall to the ground.
The trial continues Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court and is expected to last as many as four days.
Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.