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Fires in Huerfano County

by Mollie Fuller

WALSENBURG-  Of the five fires in and around Walsenburg in the last couple of weeks, three have been attributed to arson.  Two are considered accidental but with something to teach about fire safety.

    A fire broke out in an unoccupied home at 119 W. 8th St. at 9 am Nov. 27.  Although the home was unoccupied, the owners had possessions stored in the home.  According to Fire Chief Jerant, the fire crew not only saved the structure, but also kept the damage to a minimum.  However, some serious damage occurred to the rooms at the origin of the fire.

     After further inspection, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was called in on Saturday. They brought the Arson Dogs (Accelerant–Detection K-9) which have been trained to sniff out minute traces of accelerants used. In this case, the dogs hit on two separate areas of origin where accelerant was used to start the fire. The CBI also found evidence that will help link the fire to the arsonist.

    Last week, the Journal reported a suspected arson fire located on W. Cedar on Nov. 18 at approximately 1:00 am.  That fire burned John Carlson’s metal carport, his two vehicles, and personal belongings. That same morning, just an hour or two after the Carlson fire, a pickup truck belonging to the RE-1 School District was set on fire only blocks away from the Carlson fire. 

    The RE-1 transportation director, Gary Vigil smelled smoke.  He discovered the pickup truck on fire and put it out with a fire extinguisher.  After investigation, it appeared that someone had tried to stuff something in the gas tank to start the fire, but failed.  They then started the fire in the front seat of the pickup.  The police department has an ongoing investigation into these arson fires and is submitting evidence to the CBI for analysis.  The police are hoping to have the suspects in custody soon.

    A separate fire occurred Sun. Nov. 29 at 12:30 pm at the dining hall of Camp Elim in Navajo Estates.  A worker started a fire in a stove in the dining hall to heat the building.  He went out for a few moments and when he returned, he discovered the room was in flames.  He put out the fire with a garden hose.  The fire department was dispatched to finish extinguishing the fire.  Although the structure was still okay, the room was completely gutted. 

    Upon investigation, it was determined that the cause of the fire was accidental, but that the stove was not installed to code with a triple wall pipe. The stovepipe was only single wall.  The radiant heat from the stove caught the wall behind it and combustible materials stacked next to the stove on fire.  Chief Jerant emphatically stated that it is vital that woodstoves be installed to code and that combustibles be kept away from stoves. This fire could have been prevented!

     A separate fire, the Nov. 15 Brunwick fire located seven miles northeast of La Veta, was also ruled accidental.  The hot water heater is suspected as the cause of the fire, and although the exact cause is still under investigation, it will probably be determined as an electrical malfunction.  Chief Jerant pointed out that this fire is a clear case where a smoke detector can save lives. The Brunwicks were awakened by the alarm and had only seconds to get out before the place was engulfed in flames. Chief Jerant recommends, especially during this holiday season, that homeowners check smoke alarm batteries to make sure they are working properly. This small appliance can save lives!

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