Conflicting stories in Carbondale wildfire
CARBONDALE, Colorado ” The man that authorities claim is responsible for a wildfire outside of Carbondale in April told investigators he took numerous precautions to control a burning wood pile on his property.
Larry Gerbaz acknowledged that he burned wood in a pasture the weekend prior to the April 15 wildlfire, but he claimed he scratched a fire break around the wood pile and doused the embers after the fire burned out.
Authorities believe the County Road 100 wildfire originated at 1265 County Road 100, a Gerbaz family ranch east of the Carbondale rodeo grounds. Larry and his wife, Molly, live adjacent to the ranch, according to court documents.
Larry Gerbaz was charged Wednesday with two counts of fourth-degree arson, one a felony, in Garfield County District Court.
The court proceedings haven’t reached the point yet where Gerbaz, 60, has entered a plea. His attorney, Thomas Silverman of Glenwood Springs, said last week he was forbidden by legal ethics to discuss the case with reporters before it is resolved.
However, documents filed in court present some of Gerbaz’s side of the story.
Gerbaz told two Garfield County deputy sheriffs the day after the wildfire that he burned wood on his property on April 12, “but made every attempt to extinguish the burn,” according to a document called a sworn statement of facts by detective Megan Alstatt. “He advised that he had even cleared a fire break around the burn before igniting it and wet down another pile nearby to prevent it from igniting.”
Gerbaz told investigators that he had worked for the U.S. Forest Service for a number of years and “knew how to properly burn,” the report said. He specifically avoided burning large cottonwood tree trunks on his property and was going to ask the Carbondale Fire Department for assistance burning the dead logs.
When Gerbaz traveled to Denver on Tuesday (not Sunday, as earlier reported) he insisted “that there was nothing left of the burn,” according to the report. He said he buried the ash after the wood pile burned out and that he had “two friends checking on it while he went out of town.” Investigators unsuccessfully tried to contact one of those men, a resident of Marble.
Both Larry and Molly Gerbaz told investigators they thought they saw two other people burning in the area the morning that the wildfire broke out. A witness who lives next to the Gerbazes told deputies the only source of fire she saw that day was on the Gerbaz property.
Two other residents of the area said they spotted the fire when it broke out on the Gerbaz ranch and attempted to douse the flames in the wood-slash pile.
Investigators suspect that the embers in the burned wood pile in the Gerbaz pasture reignited and were spread by heavy winds, based on the burn pattern. Winds in excess of 50 mph spread the fire to the east and northeast of the Gerbaz property.
Firefighters said about 150 homes were threatened by the wildfire. Three received minor damage. One man who was fishing a stream near the Ranch at Roaring Fork subdivision was overcome by flames and suffered severe burns to his left hand.
Gerbaz is facing a felony fourth-degree arson charge based on endangering a person; and a misdemeanor arson charge related to endangering property.
Silverman has asked the district attorney’s office to produce all witness statements, all photographs of the scene and all physical evidence before a court hearing in September.