By the time Robert Atkinson saw the fire, the flames were more than 10 metres high.
“I saw flames over the trees and a glow in the sky,” recalled the chief of the Ibex Valley volunteer fire department.
The fire was on his neighbour’s property, Gordon Seybold’s, but he couldn’t get to the burning cabin because a tree was blocking the lane way.
The fallen tree made Atkinson wary.
According to his training, when there’s something blocking access to a fire it should be treated with suspicion, he testified in the Yukon Supreme Court.
Crown prosecutors allege that the fire was deliberately set to cover up the murder of Seybold.
Norman Larue, 30, is facing a first-degree murder charge in connection with the March 2008 death.
The trial started last week.
Prosecutors allege that Larue and his fiancee Christina Asp badly beat Seybold before burning his cabin to the ground.
On the first day of the trial, the jury heard a tape of Larue telling an undercover police officer how he and Asp murdered Seybold.
Larue thought the officer was a member of a major crime family and was hoping to secure a job as an enforcer with a crime syndicate.
Seybold had disrespected Larue’s mother-in-law (Asp’s mother) but it was the presence of a marijuana grow-op on the property that really piqued his interest, Larue said on the tape.
“All I seen was money,” he said.
The jury heard testimony that Seybold had been selling marijuana from his home for decades.
Atkinson knew about it, but he didn’t know the extent of the operation.
He had even been a customer of Seybold’s, “in the old days.”
Having an illicit business so close to his own house never really worried him.
“It seemed to be a quiet neighbourhood thing,” said Atkinson.
However, looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, Atkinson said he probably should have been a little more concerned.
Seybold’s former common-law partner, Angelika Lange, testified that one of the reasons she left him was because she had concerns about being involved in the marijuana business.
However, it took a long time for her to reach that conclusion.
Lange lived with Seybold from 1980 to ‘91.
During that time they were selling marijuana to about 10 customers, all close friends, she said.
It wasn’t a major operation, more of a “sideline,” said Lange.
“We weren’t getting rich off it. We lived simply.”
At some point after she left, Seybold got into growing marijuana,
A grow-op was discovered by police after the fire.
That morning Atkinson arrived on the scene with the pumper truck and two other firefighters at 6:25 a.m., he said.
But the cabin was beyond saving at that point.
“I didn’t have enough people or water to do a suppression on it,” said Atkinson.
The firefighters just tried to keep the flames from spreading to the other buildings on the property.
It wasn’t until 8 a.m. that the cabin had burned down enough for them to get in and start putting out spot fires, he said.
The roof of the cabin had collapsed and when it was being moved out of the way Atkinson saw what he thought were human remains.
He immediately turned the scene over to the coroner.
Meanwhile, police were investigating Seybold’s garage.
The first officer on scene reported a strong smell of marijuana.
When police searched the garage they discovered a false wall that divided off about one-third of the 1,000-square-foot building.
The secret room was accessed by a door camouflaged as a shelf, said Const. Lindsay Blair, one of the officers that executed the search warrant.
In that room officers found 224 small marijuana plants under grow lights.
After removing one of the ceiling tiles the officers found a ladder that led to the attic.
That brought them to what Blair described as a supply room.
Continuing on they found a second room “completely full of marijuana,” said Blair.
The 256 plants they found in that room were ready to harvest, she said.
But Seybold’s property wasn’t the only scene the RCMP were investigating that day.
That afternoon a trucker discovered two guns and a baseball bat smeared with what he thought was blood and hair in a garbage bin at a rest stop close by.
Taking the guns and the bat out of the garbage, Const. Amanda Galenzoski placed them on an adjacent garbage bin to photograph them.
She admitted on the stand that it wasn’t the best way to handle evidence.
To prevent cross-contamination, she should have worn fresh gloves when handling each piece of evidence and had the other officer hold them up for photographs rather than putting them all on the same spot.
However, because they were already touching in the bin, cross-contamination was already very likely, said Galenzoski.
The trial continues next week and isn’t expected to conclude for three months.
Contact Josh Kerr at email@example.com