Record-setting Colorado fire forces more evacuations; arson charges filed
(Courthouse News) In just 8 days, what started as a barbecue pit fire in southeastern Colorado has grown to 103,000 acres, making the Spring Creek wildfire the third largest in state history.
At 160 square miles, the Spring Creek fire is larger than Denver. Located five miles north of Fort Garland in southern Colorado, the fire has consumed 132 structures, damaged 61, and led to the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes.
“We really want to meet your needs and I really, truly mean that,” said Bill Werner, the Red Cross disaster coordinator for San Luis Valley, to evacuees Thursday morning. “Today, I had a lady who asked me if I could help brush her teeth and I told her if she could bring them in a cup, I’ll wash them for her out there, so we do just about anything. All you got to do is ask.”
Thirty-five miles of Highway 160 have been closed from La Veta to Fort Garland, in addition to portions of Highways 12 and 69.
“The initial cause of the fire was human caused,” wrote the Costilla County Sheriff’s Office in a release. “Jesper Joergensen, 52, was arrested without incident by Costilla County deputies. Jesper is being held on Arson charges. The investigation is still ongoing so information on this matter is limited.”
Joergensen, an undocumented Danish immigrant, was arrested Saturday and is currently being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to the Denver Post, on the night the fire was started, Joergensen was burning trash and grilling in a barbecue pit, though he claimed he put out both fires.
As officials feared, brutal east winds pushed the fire northward. The wind delayed repopulation plans, though officials said they hope cooler temperatures and rainfall might allow for residents of Forbes Park to revisit their homes Saturday morning.
Local residents shared stories of loss on the Costilla County Sheriff’s Facebook page, including Holly Drewry who wrote, “My mom lives in Forbes Park. She lost everything and this wasn’t just a second home, this was her only home. We are heartbroken for her and her loss but so thankful she is safe!”
With temperatures cooling off into the 80s and brief bouts of heavy rainfall expected, the areas affected by the fire have been issued flash flood warnings.
Colorado is concurrently fighting 10 different fires, including the 10,000 acre Weston Pass fire in the San Isabel National Forest, sparked by lightning on June 28, and the 2,000-acre Lake Christine fire in Basalt, Colorado, 18 miles north of Aspen.
In southwestern Colorado near Durango, the 416 fire continues to blaze, reaching 52,000 acres Thursday and 37 percent containment. The cause of the 416 fire, which sparked and spread on June 1, remains unknown.
In addition to Interstate 550 reopening, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has resumed diesel service and is expected to begin running its coal-powered steam engine next week.
The Dollar Ridge fire in Duchesne, Utah, 100 miles south of Salt Lake City, reached 42,000 acres Thursday. With 4 percent of it contained, 90 homes have been lost and 1,100 people evacuated. According to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, additional “oil, natural gas, and power line infrastructure are at risk.”