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Some suspects in fire gone in puff of smoke

Scott Condon
Special to the Post Independent

Some employees of the construction crew allegedly responsible for setting the Panorama Fire July 31 have “apparently left town,” according to Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri.

Investigators have acquired the names of the individuals who were on the crew at a construction site in the Panorama Estates subdivision in Missouri Heights, the sheriff said. The men were employed by Mendoza Concrete from Carbondale.

While trying to contact the individuals for questioning, investigators learned some had left the area, according to Dalessandri.

“I’m still comfortable that the investigation is on track, although it is taking a little longer time obviously,” Dalessandri said. “Through the interviews we’re getting more information that tends to cloud some of the issues, but we’re still very much on track.”

Dalessandri said the construction company owner talked to investigators last week. He was accompanied by his attorney. The sheriff said that was all he could say about the investigation at this time.

Workers for Mendoza Concrete were cutting steel reinforcement bar with a saw when the activity somehow sparked a fire. It is unclear whether sparks from the saw or discarded metal ignited the fire. They were working on the foundation of a new house at 805 Buck Point Drive.

The fire quickly spread through the rural, large-lot subdivision and onto adjoining properties in Missouri Heights. It crossed from Garfield County into Eagle County.

About 1,600 acres were charred before firefighters from Basalt and Carbondale, assisted from multiple agencies around the Western Slope, contained it after about 24 hours. Two homes were destroyed along with a residential tepee. Two other houses and numerous sheds, barns and garages were damaged. The cost of the destruction isn’t available.

The firefighting effort alone was estimated at $400,000.

Dalessandri said earlier in the investigation that a felony charge of fourth-degree arson was being contemplated against the party or parties responsible for the construction work.

Colorado law says fourth-degree arson is committed when a person “knowingly or recklessly” starts a fire. Recklessly is defined as, “A person acts recklessly when he dangerously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.”

In the eyes of one Colorado prosecutor, the Panorama Fire case is a tough one.

“It’s a close call,” said the prosecutor, who asked not to be named and serves outside of the district where the crime occurred. “It’s an arguable fourth-degree arson case.”

Ultimately, that source said he would pursue charges if it was his decision, based on the facts known. However, it will be important to determine what the construction crew did once the fire was discovered. Did they report it and did they attempt to put it out? he asked.

There are indications that the crew did attempt to put the fire out but it spread in the tinder-dry terrain.

District Attorney Mac Myers, whose region includes Garfield County, must ultimately decide whether he can make charges stick – if any suspects remain available to charge. Myers didn’t return a message left at his office Tuesday.


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