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Chico thief sets barn on fire, then steals Jeep and trailer before crashing

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CHICO, Calif. - It was a night the Lewis family won't soon forget. Like most people at 2:30 a.m., they were sound asleep at their secluded home in the 1600 block of Dayton Road, when a loud knocking at their front door woke them up.

Stephanie Lewis opened it to find the police on their doorstep. "He's like, are you guys missing your Jeep? And I was thinking, who's gonna steal my jeep? I mean we live out here, we have 9 acres, there's no one around," Lewis explained.

Police said the car thief was 37-year-old Jennifer Britt. She took the Jeep and the trailer that was hitched on the back.

"Then we look over and there's a fire in the barn and I'm just thinking what else is going on? I mean is something going to like jump out of the bushes? Or is it my house? You know, I was scared," Lewis said.

Police said Britt ransacked the Lewis' barn first. "She drug all of this stuff out here," Lewis said about a motorcycle and other miscellaneous tools and such in front of the barn.

Then, Britt lit the barn on fire. "She collected a whole bunch of stuff around the barn, car parts and Styrofoam and towels and all this stuff and made this weird little bomb and poured all my husbands oil on it and then lit it on fire," said Lewis. "And then I'm sure that just blew up."

That's when Britt left, but police said she made it less than a mile in the stolen Jeep before crashing it into metal gates at the end of Pomona Avenue.

One neighbor saw as she swerved down the street, then through an open field and into the gates.

"Oh yeah, it was like stacked up like this," gestured Lane Wolfe. He lives a couple houses down and said he saw the big police presence and crashed car when he got home Monday night.

"It's mind blowing," Wolfe said. "I wouldn't have expected her to steal a Jeep and trailer and light a barn on fire and think she could get away with it. That's like the most obvious thing!"

It may have been a rough night for the Lewis family, but they said it could have been worse.

"If she hadn't crashed [the car,] we probably wouldn't have known the barn was on fire and we probably would've lost 50 plus years of family memories and stuff, so it would've been really, really bad," Lewis said.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office said Britt was booked into the Butte County Jail with an $82,000 bail. The Lewis family said they have no idea who she is or why she targeted their home.

They also added that this experience is a great reminder for other locals to band together to fight crime. "If you see something, say something," Lewis said.

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