Illegal fires ignite massive Colorado blazes, spur arrests
DENVER (AP) — An illegal campfire likely ignited another destructive blaze in Colorado, an outcome authorities were trying to avoid across the hot, dry U.S. West by enforcing strict fire rules and closing some public lands.
Several people have been arrested in two Colorado wildfires that burned homes after ignoring local and federal restrictions on campfires, target shooting and other activities aimed at combating and avoiding explosive blazes across the U.S. region.
Parts of Colorado and other Western states have been grappling with heat and severe drought. In Arizona, large swaths of national forests and state trust land have been closed since before Memorial Day, while some national forests in New Mexico are opening up after rain helped ease fire danger that kept popular trails and camping spots off limits for weeks.
A national forest in Colorado fully closed last month for the first time in 16 years to prevent new wildfires started by people. And Rocky Mountain National Park imposed a ban on all campfires starting Friday because of the risk of having a new fire start with firefighters already busy.
Investigators announced Monday that three people were arrested on suspicion of starting a campfire and leaving it unattended in Colorado’s south-central mountains, sparking a blaze that destroyed at least eight homes.
The sheriff’s office in Teller County, which has a fire ban, did not release other details about the allegations against David Renfrow, 23; Kegan Owens, 19; and a 17-year-old boy. Renfrow and Owens were in jail, and it wasn’t clear if they had lawyers. They have not been formally charged yet.
It comes a week after a man was arrested on suspicion of starting the state’s third-largest wildfire in recorded history by not fully extinguishing an illegal fire pit. It has destroyed more than 130 homes in southern Colorado, but firefighters have made significant progress against the 168-square-mile (435-square-kilometer) fire.
Flames sparked in ski country also have led authorities to issue arrest warrants for two people at a shooting range accused of using tracer ammunition, which illuminates the path of fired bullets and is always banned at state ranges regardless of fire conditions. Prosecutors say one of the rounds ignited vegetation on July 3.
The blaze destroyed three homes about 20 miles from Aspen, and other shooting ranges have temporarily closed because of fire danger.
More details on large wildfires across the West:
Fires on both ends of the state eased Monday.
Crews gained some ground against flames on the California-Oregon border that killed a person and injured three firefighters. The blaze, which threatened more than 800 structures, was partially contained, but fire officials were concerned about erratic winds later Monday.
The fire has destroyed 81 structures, but officials have not determined how many are homes.
Firefighter Brandon Feller suffered severe burns to his face but was released from a hospital Sunday in good spirits, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The wildfire raging through drought-stricken timber and brush has scorched 55 square miles (142 square kilometers) and jumped into Oregon over the weekend.
In Southern California, several destructive blazes that broke out late last week during an intense heat wave have quieted down.
Firefighters in the San Diego County community of Alpine mopped up remnants of a fire that destroyed 34 houses and damaged 15 others. A commercial building also was lost.
Santa Barbara County allowed residents to return to a neighborhood in the coastal city of Goleta where 2,500 people fled wind-driven flames that destroyed 13 homes and damaged three others.
A fast-growing wildfire roaring through dry grass kept fire crews busy Monday amid heat and high wind in remote northern Nevada.
Flames the size of a four-story building torched nearly 625 square miles (1,619 square kilometers) of cattle-grazing land and habitat for the imperiled sage grouse near the border with Oregon and Idaho, said Norm Rooker with the fire’s incident management team.
The blaze is feeding on dry cheatgrass that’s 10 times more plentiful than normal in some spots after a low-snow winter failed to tamp down a bumper crop of the invasive grass from last year, he said.
“It’s like they’ve thrown a match on gasoline, it’s burning that intense, that hot, that quickly,” he said.
Police are investigating how the fire ignited and looking for anyone camping in the sparsely populated ranching area on July 4.
The blaze has come close to at least four ranches, but crews have protected them, Rooker said.
Wet weekend weather helped crews fighting a Utah wildfire that torched dozens of buildings and forced more than 1,000 people from their homes.
The fire in a mountain area near a popular fishing reservoir grew to about 78 square miles (201 square kilometers) but containment also increased, authorities said Monday.
Scattered showers and relatively cooler temperatures were expected at least through Tuesday, and some evacuees have been allowed to return home.
Investigators believe someone sparked the fire July 1 and it has burned through timber, tall grass and brush about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Salt Lake City.
Associated Press reporters Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco, John Antczak in Los Angeles and Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed.