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Fire leads to arson charge, divorce, lawsuit

An Ashland man is charged with arson and sued by his estranged wife seeking damages from the fire that destroyed their hilltop home last year.

Paul Lister Newcombe, 40, pleaded not guilty Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court to one count of first-degree arson. His arraignment came precisely a year after flames consumed the 4,000-square-foot house at 5142 W. Griffin Creek Road that he shared with wife Jennifer Newcombe and their four children.

The Newcombes and their children were away when the fire broke out at about 10:30 a.m. Nov. 21, 2012.

A Jackson County grand jury indicted Paul Newcombe Oct. 23 following a lengthy investigation by Oregon State Police. Booked at the jail Thursday, Newcombe is free on his own recognizance. A pretrial conference is set for Dec. 30 in the case.

After filing for divorce in April this year, Jennifer Newcombe sued her husband in July for the interest she lost in their home and its contents, with an estimated value not to exceed $550,000. Her complaint also alleges that Paul Newcombe, who now lists an address on Ashland's North Main Street, intentionally set the fire. His answer to the suit denies the allegations.

Interviewed in December about the crime, Jennifer Newcombe suggested that a suspicious man visiting her home with a friend may have burglarized it, then set the fire. Her husband, however, told her he purposely left the woodstove door open, "freaked out" when he saw flames on the floor and went to the garage for a gas can to make it look like arson, according to a statement she included in her petition for a protective order.

Paul Newcombe also filed for a protective order against his wife, stating that she pushed and hit him during an argument about how the fire started. Both orders were dismissed, and the couple's divorce is set for trial Dec. 6 before Circuit Court Judge Ron Grensky. Neither Newcombe could be reached for comment.

— Sarah Lemon

Read more in Saturday's newspaper.