A man found guilty of starting a fire in his condominium in Milford in 2015 was sentenced last week to 10 years in jail, suspended after 33 months.
Douglas MacDonald, 38, pleaded nolo contendere to the charge of second-degree arson. Under a no contest plea, the defendant neither accepts nor denies responsibility for the act, but agrees to accept the punishment.
MacDonald also was given five years probation after his sentence is served, according to the Connecticut Judicial Department website.
The fire was reported at about 7 a.m. Dec. 8, 2015, in the MacDonald’s condominium at 31 South Wind Lane after he and his wife had left for work. Their condo was the second-floor end unit of a four-unit building.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, they found fire coming from the second-floor windows, and began an aggressive interior attack, then-Fire Department Spokesman Greg Carman said at the time.
“The fire was quickly extinguished and was contained to the second floor of the unit, which received extensive fire damage,” Carman said. “There was some smoke and water damage to the first floor of the unit.”
Two firefighters sustained minor injuries fighting the blaze, according to an investigation report. No one else was injured.
Fire officials, working with local and state police, began investigating the cause, determining early on that it started in the center of the master bedroom of the MacDonald’s unit. But questions arose as to the cause, especially when investigators learned that the MacDonalds were scheduled to be evicted that day, and that just the day before, a candle had been left burning next to a gas stove.
“As the investigation continued, evidence was developed that the fire was intentionally set,” Battalion Chief Anthony Fabrizi said in a New Haven Register article in 2016.
According to city records, Douglas MacDonald bought the condominium in 2007 for $302,000.
But in 2015, according to a Milford Fire Department investigation report, MacDonald and his wife were about to be evicted from the home for not paying the mortgage for what may have been “a couple of years,” according to the report.
The fact that the house was being foreclosed appears to have been a surprise to Mrs. MacDonald. According to the report, she told investigators she was not aware of an eviction notice. She later met again with investigators to say that she “had no knowledge of the delinquency of the mortgage payments, the foreclosure of the property or the order of ejectment.”
The report also notes that, “She stated Mr. MacDonald had been different of the past few weeks or month in regards to mood and routine.”
She also told investigators that the day before the Dec. 8 fire, she had gone into the condominium after returning from the gym to find a candle burning on the counter next to the stove, the right front burner of the stove control set to high, and the diffuser plate pushed off to the side.
When her husband entered the house after her, he “explained the cat must have hit the knob on the stove, though Mrs. MacDonald stated the cat was not prone to jumping on the counters,” the report states.
During the investigation, documents were discovered dated June 6, 2011, indicating financial hardship regarding the mortgage.
After a thorough investigation, it was determined the fire was intentionally set in the master bedroom, and Douglas MacDonald, who had moved to Bristol, was later arrested and charged with arson.
“The cause of this fire is most probably the intentional, deliberate use of an open-flame ignition source, consistent with a lighter, candle or matches, applied for sufficient duration to ignite ordinary combustible materials, such as papers or liners, which continued to ignite other combustible materials in the room.”
MacDonald was arrested April 18, 2016. He and his wife divorced in 2017, according to court records.
“The Fire Marshal’s division, working in conjunction with police investigators, did an excellent job in providing the evidence needed in this case,” Fabrizi said.
“It’s unfortunate when people commit these types of crimes with complete disregard for the safety of others. The lives of numerous other occupants of the complex, firefighters, police officers and EMS personnel were placed at risk that day. We are fortunate in the sense that there were no fatalities or injuries.”