Woman, 24, is killed in fire

Written by Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate March 13, 2013 04:10 pm

Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Morris collects evidence Monday from the scene of a fatal trailer fire in Crescent City.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Morris collects evidence Monday from the scene of a fatal trailer fire in Crescent City. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
A woman died in a trailer fire at the Ruth Compound off Iowa Avenue in Crescent City on Saturday night. 

Around 10:24 p.m., Tommy Osburn, who lives in a makeshift tent in the area, said he was walking to the store when he saw smoke from the fire and reported it.

The woman’s body was found Sunday amid the burned remnants of the trailer, said Fire Chief Steve Wakefield.

She has not been officially identified by authorities who are conducting a DNA test on the remains.

But Deborah Starr, who was searching through charred remains of the trailer Monday morning, said the victim was her daughter, Ayla Starr, 24.

She said the fire started near the front door of the trailer.

“She couldn’t get out,” said Starr, visibly emotional. “There was no escape. She was trapped.”

All that was left of the trailer was the floor, piles of ash and partially burned property.

“The picture of the end of a drug life; a life of addiction,” said Deborah Starr amid the destruction.

Morris lifts a melted piece of the trailer.
Morris lifts a melted piece of the trailer. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Though she didn’t believe drugs had anything to do with the fire, drugs led to her daughter living with a man in a travel trailer powered by a generator on dilapidated property shared with other trailers and tents, Starr said.

The trailer’s other resident, Adam Nott, 25, was arrested on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance and marijuana Friday night.

Authorities are still investigating the fire, but Wakefield said he suspected it was caused by faulty wiring that connected the trailer to a generator that was also being shared with a nearby travel trailer.

The road to the Ruth Compound is dirty and filled with large potholes.

An acre of land was purchased shortly after the 1964 tsunami by Daniel Ruth as a home for his 12 children, said Code Enforcement Officer Dave Mason.

By the time Mason started working as the enforcement officer in 2005, the compound  was “this swirling vortex of crime and blight,” he said.

It was a priority for him to try to clean it up.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Morris sifts through the trailer debris.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Morris sifts through the trailer debris. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
In 2006, he said he had 250 junked cars removed from the property and later got a $500,000 grant from the state to haul off another 160 tons of rubbish.

Ruth eventually sold a half-acre of the land to a friend and the other half to one of his sons, who is in prison for an incident related to shooting someone’s dog on the property, Mason said. 

In the past few years there have been about a dozen fires on the property; the majority involving travel trailers, Wakefield said.

“They keep moving these derelict trailers on site and they burn them,” said Wakefield.

 Some of the fires were intentionally set, Wakefield said. 

The compound has seen a litany of crime, Sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven said.

“It’s been a problem area for law enforcement for well over 20 years,” said Steven. “On that property, there have been sex crimes, at least one homicide, numerous assaults and numerous drug possession and sales cases.”

A body was discovered Sunday after the Saturday night fire.
A body was discovered Sunday after the Saturday night fire. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
The compound is situated near  a thicket of trees and surrounded by public and other private land that is unmonitored.

It is difficult to enforce trespassing laws there because it isn’t clear where boundary lines are, Mason said.

“Illegal dumping and illegal camping isn’t as bad as it was in the past,” said Mason. “There’s just a (group of people) who won’t go away and stay away. The vast majority have substance abuse problems and that’s the life they’ve chosen by choice or default.”

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