by Pam Zubeck
Admitting they need the public's help to figure out who started the Waldo Canyon Fire on June 22, local officials begged the public to come forward if they know whether the most destructive fire in state history was intentionally or accidentally set.
"The thing we really need is information from someone who knows specifically what happened and how the fire started," Springs Police Lt. Adrian Vasquez told a roomful of reporters and TV cameras at the Police Operations Center this afternoon.
Vasquez labeled the fire human-caused and said it began within three miles of the Waldo Canyon trailhead, but gave no further details.
Vasquez is among seven members of the team representing various agencies investigating the fire, which burned 345 homes and killed two people, William and Barbara Everett, who lived on Rossmere Street.
The team includes Springs Police, Springs Fire, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, the FBI, the District Attorney's Office, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Forest Service.
Vasquez said investigators hope someone who was there that day or has talked to someone who was there and knows what happened will help with the investigation by calling 444-7000 or 634-STOP.
Having received 373 tips, investigators have worked through 120 "high-priority" tips, he said. He termed the other 253 "low-priority," meaning they don't contain information he thinks will lead to determining the fire's cause.
District Attorney Dan May spoke briefly, saying he couldn't determine what, if any, charges would be appropriate until investigators figure out if the fire was set intentionally or resulted from an unintentional act, such as a careless campfire.
Even if it was the latter, the culprit responsible likely would face some kind of charge. Vasquez noted during his remarks that the U.S. Forest Service, state of Colorado and Manitou Springs all had imposed burn bans due to drought conditions in mid-June, well ahead of the fire's start.
Which is another thing Vasquez laid to rest: Exactly when the fire began. He gave a brief account of several agencies responding to reports of smoke on Friday night, June 22, a theory long held by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.
Vasquez said firefighters tried to find the fire that night but retreated after darkness prevented progress and no fire was found. They resumed the search the next morning, and by 11:30 a.m., a plume was rising from the Waldo Canyon area. Four days later, on June 26, the blaze roared through Queens Canyon and over the ridgeline into the Mountain Shadows area on the city's northwest side where firefighters scrambled to respond.