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Unfinished Orem mansion burns to the ground; ATF aiding investigation

By Nichole Whiteley - | Dec 28, 2023

Courtesy Orem Fire Department

About 30 firefighters from Orem, Provo and Pleasant Grove worked for over two hours to get a fire at an Orem mansion under control on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023. The unfinished mansion was listed for sale for nearly $3.9 million.

The Orem Fire Department was dispatched at 5:58 p.m. Tuesday after several people in the Orem area reported a house fire.

The home, located at 479 E. 1450 North, has been under construction since 2014 under the ownership of Thomas Dickson Sr. and his wife, Beverly Dickson, but was transferred to Dickson Properties LLC in 2020, according to Utah County Land Records.

When firefighters arrived at the home, flames already had engulfed 60% to 70% of the structure. The fire already had gone through the roof when they arrived, said Shaun Hirst, Orem’s assistant fire chief.

Neighbors and nearby residents took videos and pictures and watched as the house burned and the firefighters worked for about two hours to get the fire under control. However, Hirst said firefighters were there until 2 or 3 a.m. the next day. In addition, there has been a police or fire department presence on the scene since they arrived to put out the fire to ensure evidence is not tampered with, he said.

“We’re still, at this point right now, still having to put out some hot spots within the structure,” Hirst told the Daily Herald on Thursday afternoon. No injuries were reported and no damage was done to surrounding properties, he said.

Courtesy Orem Fire Department

A nearly $3.9 million unfinished mansion in Orem burns Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023. The home was ruled a “total loss.”

After Orem firefighters arrived at the scene, they called for backup from the Provo and Pleasant Grove fire departments. Between the three cities, there were about 30 firefighters actively working to put out the fire.

Ned Chidester and Matthew Garlick, the listing agent and co-agent for the home and real estate brokers for Berkshire Hathaway, declined to release the name of the owner of Dickson Properties LLC, but Garlick said it is owned by one of the Dicksons’ sons. Chidester added the same family that started the construction still owns the property; the home was never sold after the Dicksons bought it. Thomas Dickson Sr. is the founder of Blendtec, and a co-listing agent told KUTV that the current owner of the property is his son, Tom Dickson Jr.

The 27,000-square-foot home on a 1.23 acre lot has been listed for sale since Nov. 2 for nearly $3.9 million but was withdrawn Tuesday after the fire. The owners had attempted to sell the home about a year ago through different real estate agents but ended up not selling, Chidester said.

Hirst explained the reason the fire took several hours to get under control was due to the size of the building and the heat of the fire. When firefighters arrived, they could not enter the home due to structural risks as some of the home had begun to fall in, he said. In addition, since the home was still under construction, the fire caught and spread more quickly because the wood was exposed instead of protected by sheetrock, he said.

“We believe everything above ground is going to be a total loss,” Hirst said. “Some of the cement structure underground might be viable.”

Courtesy Orem Fire Department

About 30 firefighters from Orem, Provo and Pleasant Grove worked for over two hours to get a fire at an Orem mansion under control on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023. The unfinished mansion was listed for sale for nearly $3.9 million.

The home, classified as a mansion, was mostly under construction but did have a finished indoor pool with a large water slide and an indoor tennis/pickleball court. While the house was vacant when the fire occurred, Chidester said the Dickson family had scheduled family gatherings at the pool for the holidays.

The structure featured seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms and a theater room among other amenities and details such as vaulted ceilings. Hirst explained that there were two metal, commercial-style structures at the back of the home that were finished, but the front, residential area of the home was unfinished. An open house recently had been held on Dec. 14.

The cause of the fire and when the fire began is under investigation. The Orem Fire Department and Orem Police Department are leading the investigation with the help of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Hirst said. In addition, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, has stepped in to lend assistance in the investigation, he said.

According to the federal agency’s website, “ATF’s responsibilities include the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives; acts of arson and bombings; and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products.”

Hirst declined to explain why the ATF was called in to help. “We are investigating it just as we would any other fire,” he said when asked about foul play or suspicious circumstances.

The original house on the property, built in 1991, was mostly torn down in 2014 to build the mansion. Construction has been on and off again over the past 10 years, said Peter Wolfley, Orem City communications manager.

According to Chidester, the Dickson family “were just kind of back and forth on finishing the house or selling it, and so plans changed and they decided to sell it.” He said a structure that connected to the pool and tennis court was planned to be the guest house, with plans to build the main residence in front of that.

Over the past 10 years of construction and the pauses throughout, Orem City worked with contractors and property owners to “bring the project into compliance with current building codes,” a statement released by Orem City said.

“During that time, failure to follow the originally approved building plans resulted in the need for a submittal of new building plans,” the statement said. “Those plans were never submitted to the city and a certificate of non-compliance was filed against the property with the Utah County Recorder’s Office in June 2021.”

Concern has been raised before and since the property caught fire about the extended construction timeline of the home.

The statement from the city continued, “Although the City exerts its best efforts to encourage completion of construction projects, ultimately completion of a project is the responsibility of the owner. At different times over the years, the City has also received complaints about the condition of the property from a neighbor and the City has worked with the property owner to address and correct these complaints.”

Prior to the Dickson family’s purchase of the property in 2013, several previous owners lived in the original house before it was torn down. One of the owners and residents was Joseph Berg, a former Orem plastic surgeon, who bought the home in 2008. Berg and his girlfriend, Luz Schwartz, were found dead on Aug. 27, 2012, in the home after what Orem police ruled an “accidental drug overdose,” the Daily Herald previously reported.

Photos of the home before the fire can be viewed on a previous listing of the mansion on Zillow.


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