Police investigate deadly MH house fire

Bill Mizner died after the fire at his home at 80 Preservation

Bill Mizner’s neighbors will miss him long after authorities
complete the investigation into the fire that destroyed his house
and damaged another.
Bill Mizner’s neighbors will miss him long after authorities complete the investigation into the fire that destroyed his house and damaged another.

Mizner was found dead inside the charred bedroom of his home at 80 Preservation Way, in north Morgan Hill, when firefighters and investigators finished knocking down the raging flames that burned for several hours. The Santa Clara County Coroner is still trying to determine the cause of Mizner’s death, and police and firefighters are investigating the cause of the two-alarm fire that also burned a garage and a variety of large items stored on the property, and left the roof and charred walls standing over the home’s gutted interior.

Police are treating the death as suspicious, Morgan Hill Sgt. Jerry Neumayer said.

Authorities declined to release the victim’s identity. Neighbors identified Mizner, who lived at the home at the end of a cul-de-sac with his wife, at the scene of the fire Tuesday morning. Mizner was in his early 50s, according to next-door neighbor Ray Wylie. Neighbors also described him as a hard worker, whose trade was construction.

He enjoyed playing with his grandson and attending backyard barbecues where his specialty was fried turkey, according to Josh Anaya, who lives with his parents and siblings across the street from Mizner’s destroyed home. Anaya said his family was “really close” to Mizner.

“He was a really happy person,” said Anaya, 18.

Anaya and his mother were awakened about 4:15 a.m. by a loud explosion and breaking glass.

Assuming the couple were still inside the burning home, Anaya ran to the back of the house and tried to enter to help the residents evacuate. When he tried to open a screen door, smoke poured out, preventing him from entering. He went back across the street and tried to use a bucket of water to douse the flames, and he said another neighbor tried to use a garden hose to extinguish the fire before firefighters arrived.

Mizner’s wife was not at home at the time of the fire, and Wylie said she was with family in Los Banos.

Wylie described Mizner as a “great guy.”

“A lot of people knew him,” Wylie said outside the fenced-off fire scene Wednesday afternoon, where he was helping clean up debris.

As of Thursday, police would not rule out arson, and had not eliminated suicide or homicide as possible motives in Mizner’s death, Morgan Hill Police Cmdr. David Swing said.

Neighbors said Mizner sent text messages to relatives’ phones shortly before the fire. One of the messages said, “Figure it out,” and another simply said, “Goodbye,” Anaya said. The messages were received between 4:15 and 4:35 a.m. Tuesday.

The house was already fully engulfed in flames when the first engine from Santa Clara County Fire Department arrived before 5 a.m. The fire was mostly extinguished, but still smoldering about 10:30 a.m. Firefighters, police and the American Red Cross were still at the hectic scene at the end of a residential court. Neighbors and emergency vehicles crowded the narrow street, which was closed to regular traffic.

Mizner’s body was found by firefighters who entered the scene late in the morning, said Santa Clara County battalion Chief Rich Salazar, though he declined to identify Mizner by name.

A neighbor who lives behind the Mizners’ home, on Old Monterey Road, said the flames were shooting out of every window in the home, reaching 40 feet into the air by the time the blaze woke him up about 4:15 a.m. Bill Mayne said he fought the fire with a garden hose for about an hour and a half from his house, while more than a dozen emergency fire vehicles from Santa Clara County, South County, Gilroy, San Jose and CalFire surrounded the property.

“It was so hot it melted the chain-link fence,” Mayne said.

Anaya and his brother Rafael, who saw the flames before the blaze fully engulfed the property, said they thought it was set intentionally. A garage or shed behind the home was covered in flames first, while the section of the home that was on fire was not adjacent to the burning outbuilding.

“It was two separate fires – nothing else (in between) was on fire,” Josh Anaya said.

Salazar noted there was an “incredible amount” of items stored on the property that were destroyed in the flames. An old motor home, railroad car, piles of wood and containers of paint and other chemicals were stored in a shed and outside behind the home.

Several neighbors said they heard a loud explosion – one of the noises that first alerted them to the emergency before fire engines arrived. Salazar said it is “not uncommon” for small explosions to happen in house fires. The county’s hazardous materials unit was present to mitigate the potential spread of toxic chemicals.

A Chevrolet Malibu and a Chevrolet pickup truck in the driveway of the destroyed home appeared to be damaged, but not completely burned.

The Anayas said the explosion they heard shook their house.

“We thought it was an earthquake,” said Rafael Anaya.

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