The state fire marshal’s office has closed the investigation into the Kentucky Avenue house fire where 41-year-old Kevin Clayton was found dead last November, and from where two of his three young children escaped after the fire broke out. The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations concluded that the cause of the fire could not be determined, but that Clayton had most likely set the fire before shooting himself in the head with a rifle.
“Based on the fire scene investigation, physical evidence, and witness statements it has been determined that this fire has been classified as undetermined,” the investigative report, made public in late July, concluded. “Examination of the burn patterns and gradient levels of damage revealed the fire originated in the back section of the home near the bathroom wall but no source of ignition could be determined. Based on the Medical Examiner’s Report Kevin Clayton died from a gunshot wound to the head. It appears that Kevin Clayton started the fire and then took his own life.”
The report was completed by Jeffrey Ruland, an investigator with the state’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. He arrived at the scene of the fire at 40 Kentucky Avenue two hours after the fire broke out, as firefighters were still battling the blaze, which gutted the majority of the house the night of Nov. 28. The 1,723-square-foot one-story, three-bedroom, two-bath wood-frame house was built in 1985 with Hardy board siding and asphalt shingle roof.
Clayton’s two youngest boys, 7 and 4 at the time, were in the house when the fire broke out. The investigation reveals that the boys were asleep on the couch. The 7-year-old boy heard a “pop.” When he opened his eyes, the house was full of smoke. He woke up his younger brother, put a blanket over his head and led him out of the house, running to a neighbor’s house to alert them. The neighbor happened to be a law enforcement officer. They told the neighbor that their father was asleep in the living room with a gun, but that they had not woken him up because “if they wake up dad he gets mad,” according to a sheriff’s incident report. (The boys were subsequently recognized for their bravery before the Flagler County Commission, with several local and state agencies awarding them certificates of recognition.)
Clayton had recently been separated from his wife, Amy, now 43, and had been depressed, the fire investigation stated. She was away from the house with her oldest son at the time of the fire.
Kevin Clayton’s body “was located in the living room on the couch near the south wall of the room,” the report states. “The body was sitting in an upright position facing the south wall of the home. A rifle was found lying in the deceased’s lap with the barrel pointing toward the west.” The medical examiner concluded that Clayton had committed suicide with one shot to the right temple. The weapon was a .22 caliber rifle.
“Examination of the electric service did not show any evidence of having contributed to the fire,” the report concluded. A dog was used in the search to sniff out any potential ignitable liquids, but no such ignitable liquid was found in one sample sent to an analysis lab.
The house was valued at $85,000 house. The house was insured for $182,500 through Citizens’ insurance, the state’s publicly funded insurer. Insurers generally do not pay claims on fires determined to have been the result of arson. With the official investigation leaving the cause of the fire undetermined, arson is, in effect, not the official cause, even as the investigation’s narrative suggests that Kevin Clayton in fact set the fire.