Lake Christine Fire arson suspects in court; discovery hearings set for early October
EAGLE — The two people facing charges for allegedly starting the Lake Christine fire near Basalt in early July made their first appearance on recently filed new felony charges in Eagle County court on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
Defense attorneys for both Richard Miller, 23, and Allison Marcus, 22, requested to move the next hearings in the dual case back to the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 9, as new circumstances of the case are discovered.
Marcus and Miller were originally summoned at the scene of the Lake Christine Wildlife Area shooting range where the fire began on Tuesday, July 3, and initially faced misdemeanor arson charges.
They were then arrested on Sunday, July 15, and released on $7,500 bond each after the more-serious felony charges were leveled. The heftier charges were due to the loss of three houses in the fire the night of Wednesday, July 4, and the cost to fight the fire, which has now topped $16.8 million. The fire continues to burn on Basalt Mountain but is now considered 90 percent contained.
The two suspects had been scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, July 31, though they were granted two weeks reprieve as Eagle County Court Judge Rachel Olguin-Fresquez was scheduled to be out that week.
Miller and Marcus were in court Tuesday, Aug. 14, to face charges of fourth-degree arson, a Class 4 felony, and firing woods or prairie, a Class 6 felony.
The two were originally charged with misdemeanor fourth-degree arson, though that charge escalated to a felony as the fire spread, damaging property and endangering residents of the Missouri Heights area and greater El Jebel.
This charge can carry two to six years in prison and three years of mandatory parole.
The Class 6 felony charge of firing woods or prairie is when a person “knows or reasonably should know that he or she violates any applicable order, rule or regulation lawfully issued by a governmental authority that prohibits, bans, restricts or otherwise regulates fires during periods of extreme fire hazard and that is designed to promote the safety of persons and property,” according to Colorado statutes.
According to the arrest affidavit, Pitkin County dispatch sent notice of a possible fire at the Basalt shooting range at 5:54 p.m. Tuesday, July 3. Just before 6 p.m., Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy Josiah Maner and off-duty Forest Service Officer Mandrick had approached Marcus and Miller at the range.
Marcus told the officials she had called 911 to report the fire, stating that she “caused it and was sorry.” When asked what type of gun she was shooting, she told Maner she had been shooting a rifle.
When asked the same question, Miller said he was firing a shotgun. Maner then asked Miller what types of rounds they had been shooting, and Miller claimed not to know. The deputy then asked if they were shooting incendiary rounds, such as tracers.
Tracer rounds emit pyrotechnics to create rays of light traceable by the naked eye. They are often used in military operations to direct the line of fire toward a target.
Tracer rounds are banned from all shooting ranges managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, including the one in Basalt. They are also prohibited during Stage 2 fire restrictions, which had been implemented across Eagle County four days prior to the start of the Lake Christine fire.
Miller initially denied firing tracers, though he quickly retracted once Maner asked to see his guns and ammo, according to the court documents.
Maner asked Miller if he saw the lighted signs along the highway indicating Stage 2 fire restrictions were in place, and Miller said he saw the signs but only read fires and fireworks were prohibited.
The deputy informed Miller that incendiary rounds are part of those restrictions and subsequently seized a shotgun, a .308 caliber rifle and ammunition to be placed into evidence, the affidavit says.
Day 43 of Lake Christine Fire
More than a month later, the Lake Christine fire is at 90 percent containment.
It has scorched 12,588 acres of forest and destroyed three homes, valued respectively at $1,225,000, $759,345 and $671,997. The estimated firefighting cost is $16.8 million.
Area residents anticipate coming news of full containment, though returning to normal life will take much longer.
Air quality has been affected by excessive smoke from several fires burning across the region, and closures throughout that section of White River National Forest will stay in place at least until summer 2019, according to a statement from the U.S. Forest Service.