Carbondale fire deemed accident |

Carbondale fire deemed accident

CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Tuesday’s wildfire in the midvalley started when high winds scattered embers from a controlled burn set on a prior day, officials with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.

Investigators concluded the fire “was not the result of arson or a malicious act,” said a statement released by the sheriff’s office.

The finding that the fire was an accident means the person who lit it won’t be held responsible. “No criminal charges are being contemplated at this time,” said Garfield County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tamra Blackard.

The statement released by the sheriff’s office was sparse with details about the controlled burn. It didn’t specify when or where that burn was lit. Blackard was unable to provide additional information. She said a full report will be released when the investigation is completed.

Garfield County Sheriff’s Emergency Operations Commander Jim Sears told Carbondale’s Valley Journal newspaper that the controlled burn was a “couple” of days old when the wildfire ignited.

The sheriff’s office statement said: “The event was started when excessive winds exposed the smoldering embers below the surface of a controlled burn in the area, which began spreading the embers from the immediate controlled burn area.”

In earlier media briefings, Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach said the department was called to a fire out of control about 1.2 miles east of Carbondale, just off County Road 100, also known as Catherine Road. The fire spread east and northeast from the point of origin, he said.

County Road 100 reopened Wednesday night and on Thursday it was apparent that the western edge of the fire was at the Gerbaz Ranch at 1265 County Road 100. Messages left for the telephone number listed at the ranch weren’t returned Thursday.

Residents of the area reported that slash piles, containing old wood, were burned in pastures in the area on Sunday.

Leach said there were no burn permits issued for Tuesday, when high winds made conditions unsafe. Officials said it didn’t appear there was a burn permit issued for that area on Sunday, either.

“I am under the impression there was not,” Blackard said.

The wildfire that resulted from the unattended controlled burn scorched about 1,000 acres, authorities estimated. Leach said it threatened 300 homes and forced the evacuation of 150 to 200 people. An unknown number of people couldn’t return to their homes Tuesday night.

Four homes received minor damage in the fire. A fisherman was injured while trying

to escape the blaze during an outing on the Roaring Fork River.

Leach said a “heroic act” by the fire crews prevented the loss of homes and possibly

lives. Numerous homeowners marveled that the firefighters were able to save their

property from the wind-whipped flames.

Leach estimated the cost of the firefighting effort will exceed $100,000.

The fire was 100 percent contained Wednesday evening, but 35 local firefighters,

including a 20-person hand crew from the Rifle Correctional Facility, were on mop-up

duty Thursday. The operation will be scaled down to four to six Carbondale

firefighters manning two brush trucks beginning today.

“Citizens should expect to see small wisps of smoke occasionally and caution is still

being emphasized to property owners and other persons who enter the Preserve and

Mayfly Bend subdivisions due to the cottonwood trees specifically,” said the

statement from the sheriff’s office. “There are many tall cottonwood trees throughout

that area that have been burned, damaged and their integrity compromised. The

potential danger exits in the event that the trees or parts of the trees could fall.

Landowners should consult with a professional arborist to determine the safety

precautions and mitigation steps that should be taken.”

Officials want anyone planning an open burn to contact their nearest fire department

for required permits and tips on safety.

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