Investigator: Arsonist, 9, started fire
A 9-year-old boy intentionally started the fire last Tuesday at the River Manor Apartments in Parachute, authorities say.
Roy Taylor, an agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in Montrose, said the boy has a history of arson, but he can’t be charged for starting the blaze.
“Children under the age of 10 can’t be tried for criminal offenses,” he said.
Instead, Taylor said the boy’s mother could be charged in connection with the fire, but that decision sits with the 9th District Attorney’s office.
Taylor was just finishing up his report Tuesday afternoon to submit to the D.A.’s office on Wednesday. He said he didn’t know what type of charges would be filed, if any.
Taylor said another boy in the family has a history of arson. The family includes a mother, three children and a stepfather.
“It’s a sad situation,” Taylor said. “The day before the fire, the boy’s 12-year-old brother was in court for arson. Since he’s over 12, he can be tried.”
CBI reported the River Manor fire began when the 9-year-old boy used a lighter to ignite a blanket. Once the boy’s mother saw flames, she ran to a nearby hallway to get a fire extinguisher. By the time the boy’s mother returned, she told John Bear of the American Red Cross, the apartment’s walls were fully involved in fire.
“At that point, she got her three kids out of the apartment, and knocked on neighbors’ doors to alert them of the fire,” Bear said.
The fire destroyed two apartments, including the one occupied by the boy’s family. Two additional apartments were severely damaged, and all of the building’s 24 units had to be evacuated. More than 70 residents were displaced for at least three days.
“It was tragic,” said Taylor, “but thank God no one suffered physical harm.”
Only Building 2, one of eight, three-story apartment buildings in the River Manor complex, was affected by the fire. By Friday, 20 of the building’s 24 units were reoccupied by residents. Residents in the four damaged apartments were moved to vacant units in other buildings within the complex.
“Everyone has a place to stay,” said Taylor.
But four families whose apartments were destroyed have lost their belongings.
“Most of these people don’t have two nickels to rub together,” he said. “I doubt they had renter’s insurance. What they had was there, and now that’s gone.”
LIFT-UP and the Red Cross have been stepping in to help provide clothing and other essentials to victims, and Alpine Bank has set up a monetary fund for cash donations.
Taylor said in his career as an investigator he’s seen many “juvenile fire-starters.”
“Some are just messing around with matches, but don’t understand the consequences of fire,” he said. “Then there are others, like these boys. They’ve developed a pattern. They know what they’re doing. They’re starting these fires intentionally.”
So how does a parent deal with a child who’s knowingly starting fires?
Mike Piper, of the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, said it’s a tough call.
“Even thought it’s the responsibility of the parents to make sure children are educated about fire, we’re all responsible,” he said.
“We conduct Fire Prevention Weeks at schools, and we hope the message gets through. But we also have to look at how we as a society embrace fire.
“Look at the popularity of fireworks. We don’t think twice about gathering around a campfire and staring at the flames,” Piper said.
“I’ve been to so many structure fires where people are standing around, watching the fire. It’s almost primal.”
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.