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WALDO CANYON FIRE: Local, federal agencies investigating cause

By: RYAN MAYE HANDY
July 27, 2012
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photo - The smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire was quickly visible on the day it started, June 23, from Woodland Park. The investigation into the cause of the fire continues.  Photo by SUSANNAH KAY/The Gazette
The smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire was quickly visible on the day it started, June 23, from Woodland Park. The investigation into the cause of the fire continues. Photo by SUSANNAH KAY/The Gazette 

The report on the cause of the Waldo Canyon fire could be released within the next two weeks, but there’s no guarantee it will be done that soon, 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May said Friday.

The Colorado Springs investigation into the fire includes both federal and local law enforcement investigators and is running alongside a separate Teller County investigation into a series of arson fires earlier this summer.

Few details have been released on the investigation into the cause of the 18,247-acre Waldo Canyon fire that started on June 23, and went on to destroy 346 homes and kill an older couple, Bill and Barbara Everett.

On June 24, the day after the fire’s large plume of smoke was spotted billowing from hillsides west of Colorado Springs, May mustered four of his investigators and dispatched them to Teller County, where local officials were searching for an elusive arsonist who had set more than 20 fires in the area the previous week.

By June 25, May had teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in a joint local and federal investigation into the cause of the Waldo Canyon fire.

May said that the Colorado Springs police and homicide detective Adrian Vasquez are heading the local investigation, which includes representatives from the FBI, the ATF, and the forest service as well as the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

May joined investigators when they were first taken to the ignition point —or starting point — of the fire on July 3. Until then, the fire’s heat and behavior had been too extreme and erratic to allow for a safe investigation.

May said he walked through a hazardous landscape, dotted with giant charred trees standing precariously atop comparative-toothpick sized trunks. The forest floor caved in at least once during May’s tour, due to smoldering root systems underground. May said he and an FBI investigator saw smoke rising from a few spots on the ground.

Some 4th Judicial District investigators also are assisting a Teller County task force looking for the culprit of several arson fires that were set in the country prior to and during the Waldo Canyon fire, said Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger on Friday.

Although the arson fires mysteriously ceased after the first week of the Waldo Canyon fire, the investigation is ongoing, Ensminger said.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

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