BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It was 10:35 p.m. Saturday night, and something was going on with Bill Destefani’s dog. The dog was restless, agitated. And then Destefani saw it through the window – an orange glow in the night sky.
His three-story, 18,000-square-foot mansion a few hundred feet away from the unattached office where he was sleeping, was on fire. He called the fire department for help.
The mansion on Buena Vista Road just south of McCutcheon Road was well involved, according to Kern County Fire – but fortunately unoccupied. In fact, Palazzo Destefani, as the sprawling mansion is called, has not had full-time occupants since it was built in 2007. It’s often used as a wedding venue. But according to Destefani, one man was on the property – uninvited.
I caught up with Destefani this morning as he walked through what remained of the mansion with fire investigators.
“They caught the guy,” said Destefani, who then described the events leading up to the suspect’s arrest.
“Set this on fire,” he said, pointing to one of the front rooms. “Then he went to the cabana and was starting one there. Fire truck had already gotten here. The fireman saw him and tried to catch him. The guy run out. The guy got a good description. (The suspect) ran into the trees.”
And got away. For a few hours anyway. Fire investigators spotted a man who matched the previous night’s description and detained him at 9:20 a.m. Sunday at Independence High School. The fire department said he had allegedly started two additional fires.
The suspect, Marty Sias, was booked on three felony arson charges. His bail was set at $85,000 and he faces an arraignment hearing Tuesday.
Firefighters battled the blaze all night, working until Monday morning to make sure it was completely extinguished.
The home had eight bedrooms, nine-and-a-half bathrooms and sits on 19 acres. Its assessed value is $3 million, although Zillow lists it at $4 million – and, according to Destefani, a well known, 77-year-old local farmer and recreational pilot, it was not insured.
Sias has a relatively long criminal record — a felony charge for disorderly conduct with intent to terrorize, which was reduced to a misdemeanor, and a half dozen other misdemeanor arrests.
Destefani said he does not know the suspect, but a lot of people know Destefani — a colorful guy who has a long and distinguished record as a competitive air racer. His nickname? Tiger.