Sheriff may seek search warrant in fire investigation |

Sheriff may seek search warrant in fire investigation

Garfield County investigators may pursue a search warrant to gain access to employee records and other information from the Carbondale firm believed to have started the nearly 1,600-acre Panorama Fire, Sheriff Tom Dalessandri said Friday.

A seven-person crew from Mendoza Concrete allegedly used a gas-powered saw to cut rebar Wednesday afternoon in the Panorama Estates subdivision northeast of Carbondale. The crew was working on the concrete foundation for a new home belonging to Hans Brucker at 805 Buckpoint Road.

A spark from the saw is thought to have started the fire, which quickly spread, destroyed two homes and damaged several others.

Dalessandri said since taking an initial statement from the foreman, company officials have not cooperated.

“(Company owner Ignacio) Mendoza has hired a lawyer and we haven’t been able to talk to him,” Dalessandri said. “So we may have to follow up with a search warrant. If there was a crime committed, they can’t withhold that information.”

Ignacio Mendoza said Friday he is “doing everything I’m supposed to do,” but would not comment further.

Dalessandri said Brucker would not be liable for any damages, since he entered into a contract with Mendoza in good faith and had no role in the actions of the workers.

The investigation may lead to the arrest of one or more company officials or employees on a charge of fourth-degree arson, Dalessandri said, which is punishable by two to six years in prison and a fine of between $2,000 to $500,000.

However, Dalessandri said he wasn’t “overly concerned” about when an arrest occurs. The liability of Mendoza Concrete would likely be more important to those residents whose homes were lost or damaged by the fire, he said.

Any fine from an arson conviction would likely help the county, various fire departments who responded and the Colorado State Forest Service recover the costs of battling the blaze.

“We had 11 slurry drops and each of those is about $50,000,” Dalessandri said. “Then we had the interagency costs with Eagle County, which I would think would easily reach $100,000. I think if you counted the personal losses, which a resident would have to pursue through civil courts, you’re looking at a couple million dollars.”

Meanwhile, Eagle County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kim Andree said the fire was fully contained Friday and local fire crews were to demobilize.

The evacuation center in El Jebel was also closed and Andree said if residents had any remaining questions or issues they could call 947-0400.

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