CRIPPLE CREEK • Three people whose campfire sparked last year’s High Chateau blaze — which burned 1,400 acres and 11 homes in Teller County — avoided prison Monday after victims called for compassion and community service.
Eligible for up to 18 months in prison, Kegan Patrick Owens, 19, and David Michael Renfrow, 24, will instead serve a mix of jail time and lengthy probationary terms. A third defendant — a juvenile male — was ordered to serve two years of supervised probation.
At a hearing in Teller County District Court, the two men apologized for starting a June 29 campfire in defiance of a burn ban triggered by hot, windy conditions.
The wildfire that resulted burned for roughly a week, wiping out homes and cabins, endangering emergency crews and devastating scenic forests, authorities say.
Prosecutors didn’t request prison, citing calls for mercy from the property owners affected. Fourth Judicial District Judge Scott Sells noted that both men apologized in court but said, “that’s not enough,” calling their conduct “absolute criminal stupidity.”
Owens was ordered to serve 60 days in jail and 10 years on unsupervised probation. Renfrow was sentenced to 70 days in jail and 10 years on probation. The extra 10 days were imposed because he was the oldest person present at the time. Both were ordered to perform 100 hours of community service as part of their sentences.
Both pleaded guilty last year to a felony alleging they set fire to woods or prairie despite a county burn ban advertised on signs along major roads in Teller County.
They could have received up to 18 months in prison under their plea bargains.
In addition to supervised probation, the juvenile defendant — a 16-year-old boy — must undergo in-home family counseling and substance abuse therapy and provide 24 hours of community service.
Still to be determined in the case is the price tag for restitution, which is expected to reach into the millions of dollars. Prosecutors have 90 days to submit a tally. If the defendants dispute the totals, a hearing would then be set.
The penalties came after a prosecutor read statements from victims, who described the heavy toll of seeing their homes and vacation cabins reduced to charred rubble.
At least two of the homes that burned during the High Chateau fire were occupied, including that of Jim and Elizabeth Birmingham, who lost their home of 24 years along with a two-story garage, a shop and several automobiles.
Nothing survived except what Jim Birmingham gathered up in panic as flames closed in — some family photos, two handguns and a chainsaw.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t remember another thing that we have lost,” the Birminghams said in a letter read in court.
They asked the judge only to make clear how the trio’s “selfish actions” affected so many in the area.
Charles Vervalin, 85, lost the vacation cabin he built with help from his son more than 40 years ago. Through the decades, the rustic 800-square-foot cabin came to host countless family holidays, and untold memories.
“Now all we have are the memories,” the Woodland Park resident said.
Vervalin said his family is unlikely to rebuild because of the costs of meeting modern building requirements, such as installing a septic system.
Owens and Renfrow vowed to do what they could to repay victims.
Before being ordered to jail, Owens was working two jobs and planning to start a third. Renfrow said he is seeking disability.
Authorities say the trio were drinking beer and grilling when they left without fully extinguishing their fire. Their attorneys say they put dirt and water on the campfire and believed that it was fully out.