Boy suspected of finding matchbook to start Dewey fire
Grand Junction Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” The Grand Junction boy suspected of starting the blaze that destroyed Utah’s Dewey Bridge told investigators he found a half-used, discarded book of matches while walking the edge of the Colorado River.
The boy, 6, said he sat down and started lighting what was left.
“He states he was trying to light a fourth match when a bush with poky things started on fire and he did not light the fourth match,” reads a report released Thursday by the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.
The boy said it was the first time he’d used “those kind of matches.” The book was brown and had three or four matches already torn out.
He told investigators the April 6 fire was his third playing with matches.
“(Boy) tells of another time when he piled paper towels onto some shelves in the house and lit them with a match, but didn’t burn the house,” the report said.
He recalled another fire set, but remembered only it was “outside.”
The boy was interviewed April 11 in Grand Junction. The report said the interview happened with the boy’s parents present, along with two employees with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and a Grand County Sheriff’s deputy.
The boy’s father said he and his wife, sons ages 6 and 9 along with two family dogs were only at a campground 20 minutes when the fire started.
They had just finished hiking in the area of Fisher Towers.
The father said his boys were playing “in the bushes” and were out of eyesight, but he could hear them.
“(Father) says (6-year-old) came running up to him and said he had started a fire by rubbing two sticks together,” the report said.
The father said he first thought it was an April Fools’ joke.
“No, I’m serious,” the boy replied.
An area about five feet in diameter was ablaze, and the fire had caught several Tamarisk trees by the time the father arrived.
“He tried to stomp the fire out and beat it with a stick.”
Winds were gusting at about 15 to 20 mph.
“(Mother and father) stated they did not have any matches with them on that day,” the report said.
Another family was nearby at the same time loading ATVs. They had cellular phones, but no service.
The boy’s mother said they returned to their vehicle, drove 15 minutes to find cell service, and reported the blaze.
When they returned, Utah’s longest suspension bridge, which was built in 1916, was in flames.
“(Mother) states it was about an hour and 45 minutes before help arrived to fight the fire,” the report said.
Grand County Chief Deputy Curt Brewer said his agency’s investigation is done and will be turned over the Grand County Attorney’s Office for a decision on criminal charges.
“This was a tough investigation,” Brewer said. “You feel for the family and the young man. At the same time, you feel for those who loved that bridge.”
Brewer said a prosecutor will likely consult with Grand County Commissioners, and may request a follow-up investigation, before a charging decision.
Grand County Attorney Happy Morgan could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“The biggest thing left for us is determining the value of that bridge,” Brewer said.
According to the report, a 1996 cost analysis for restoration of the bridge came in at $530,000.
The bridge was deeded to Grand County by the Utah Department of Transportation in August 1989.
It crossed the Colorado River about 30 miles north of Moab.
Lynn Jackson, with BLM’s Moab Field Office, said a separate federal investigation is ongoing. Jackson said a cost estimate for the April 6 fire suppression effort has not been completed.
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