Illegal fires ignite massive blazes, spur multiple arrests
DENVER — An illegal campfire likely ignited another destructive blaze in Colorado, an outcome authorities were trying to avoid across the hot, dry U.S. West by enforcing strict fire rules and closing some public lands.
Several people have been arrested in two Colorado wildfires that burned homes after ignoring local and federal restrictions on campfires, target shooting and other activities aimed at combating and avoiding explosive blazes across the region.
Parts of Colorado and other Western states have been grappling with heat and severe drought. In Arizona, large swaths of national forests and state trust land have been closed since before Memorial Day, while some national forests in New Mexico are opening up after rain helped ease fire danger that kept popular trails and camping spots off limits for weeks.
A national forest in Colorado fully closed last month for the first time in 16 years to prevent new wildfires started by people. Additionally, Rocky Mountain National Park imposed a ban on all campfires starting Friday because of the risk of having a new fire start with firefighters already busy.
Investigators announced Monday that three people were arrested on suspicion of starting a campfire and leaving it unattended in Colorado’s south-central mountains, sparking a blaze that destroyed at least eight homes.
The sheriff’s office in Teller County, which has a fire ban, did not release other details about the allegations against David Renfrow, 23; Kegan Owens, 19; and a 17-year-old boy. Renfrow and Owens were in jail and they have not been formally charged yet.
It comes a week after a man was arrested on suspicion of starting the state’s third-largest wildfire in recorded history by not fully extinguishing an illegal fire pit. It has destroyed more than 130 homes in southern Colorado, but firefighters have made significant progress against the 168-square-mile fire.
Flames sparked in ski country also have led authorities to issue arrest warrants for two people at a shooting range accused of using tracer ammunition, which illuminates the path of fired bullets and is always banned at state ranges regardless of fire conditions. Prosecutors say one of the rounds ignited vegetation on July 3.
The blaze destroyed three homes about 20 miles from Aspen and other shooting ranges have temporarily closed because of fire danger.