Three people sentenced for starting Chateau Fire last summer in Colorado

Three people whose campfire ignited what became the 1,400-acre Chateau Fire seven miles northwest of Cripple Creek, Colorado were sentenced in Teller County District Court last week. Some of the owners of the 11 homes that burned asked for compassion and community service rather than the maximum of 18 months prison time that could have been imposed.

According to The Gazette, Kegan Patrick Owens, 19 and David Michael Renfrow, 24 will serve 60 and 70 days, respectively, in jail. They will both be on probation for 10 years and were ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. A third person who is a juvenile was sentenced to counseling, substance abuse therapy, and 24 hours of community service.

Restitution has not yet been determined, but it could be in excess of a million dollars.

The fire was first reported on June 29, 2018.

Trail runner attacked by a mountain lion defended himself by suffocating the lion

It happened near Fort Collins, Colorado

A man who went for a run alone yesterday on a trail at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space (map) just west of Fort Collins, Colorado was attacked by a mountain lion. While defending himself he managed to suffocate the animal, killing it, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The runner was then able to leave the area and get himself to a local hospital.

The victim of the attack described hearing something behind him on the trail and was attacked as he turned around to investigate. The lion lunged at the runner, biting his face and wrist. He was able to fight and break free from the lion, killing the lion in self-defense. The runner sustained serious, but non-life threatening injuries as a result of the attack.

mountain lion
File photo of adult mountain lion. Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

As wildlife officers searched the trail area described by the runner, the body of a juvenile mountain lion was found within feet of several possessions that the victim asked the officers to look for on the trail. The lion has been taken to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife animal health lab for a necropsy.

“The runner did everything he could to save his life. In the event of a lion attack you need to do anything in your power to fight back just as this gentleman did,” said Mark Leslie, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northeast Region manager.

Mountain lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than 20 fatalities in North America in more than 100 years. Since 1990, Colorado has had 16 injuries as a result of mountain lion attacks, and three fatalities. Lion populations are doing very well in Colorado, but they are elusive animals and tend to avoid humans. Most people will never see a lion in the wild, but they are there. If you live, work, or play in mountain lion country, it is important to be alert.

The article was corrected to show that the attack occurred west of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Suspects accused of starting Lake Christine Fire with tracer rounds plead not guilty

The fire that started July 3, 2018 near Basalt, Colorado burned 12,588 acres and three homes

Lake Christine Fire
The Lake Christine Fire, July 4, 2018. Photo: Katie Baum Hueth, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

The two people charged with starting the Lake Christine Fire pleaded not guilty during a court appearance. Investigators said the fire that started July 3, 2018 was ignited by tracer rounds used at a shooting range by Allison Marcus, 22, and Richard Miller, 23. Shortly after the fire ignited Marcus and Miller were cooperative and talked with law enforcement officials.

The fire burned 12,588 acres and three homes near Basalt and El Jebel 15 air miles southeast of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Richard Miller and Allison Marcus
Richard Miller and Allison Marcus. Photo: Eagle County Sheriff’s Office

The date of the trials for the suspects is uncertain, but they could be scheduled for May or June.

Tracer rounds are incendiary ammunition. They have a substance that burns when fired, making the trajectory of the bullet visible during daylight, but especially noticeable at night. Tracer ammunition is banned in many areas, including the area where the Lake Christine Fire started.

Miller and Marcus have been charged with fourth-degree arson.

Railroad only pays half of cost of fires caused by their steam engines

Coal-burning trains operated by D&SNG in Colorado have started multiple wildfires in the San Juan National Forest

According to an article in the Durango Herald the company that operates a steam-powered railroad for tourists north of Durango, Colorado has been paying only about half of the costs of suppressing numerous fires started by the coal-burning locomotives.

The newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request in order to get the U.S. Forest Service to release information about the fires caused by the train that burned in the San Juan National Forest. Much of the 42-mile route the steam engines travel between Durango and Silverton is within the National Forest.

The Herald studied seven of the major fires that occurred between 1994 and 2013 that investigators determined were started by the train. In these cases the railroad offered to pay much less than the amount billed by the Forest Service. The agency settled with the company, agreeing to allow payments of between 20 and 88 percent for the seven fires, averaging 53 percent of the billed amounts.

We assembled the data from the article and created the table below.

D&SNG payments for wildfires steam engine train
Data collected by the Durango Herald from the USFS; collated by Wildfire Today.

The U.S. Forest Service has not released the cause of the most recent fire that started near the railroad, the 416 Fire that burned about 54,000 acres and ran up suppression costs totaling approximately $31.3 million as of six weeks after the fire started.

At least six local residents and business owners in the Durango area have filed a lawsuit against D&SNG alleging that the train started the 416 Fire on June 1.

D&SNG reports that they plan to replace some of the coal-powered locomotives with diesel engines during periods of high wildfire danger.

Click here to see all articles on Wildfire Today about trains and wildfires.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Gary.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Cost of 18 wildfires in Colorado this year reported to be about $130 million

Above: Spring Creek Fire southwest of Pueblo, Colorado. Photo uploaded to InciWeb June 29, 2018.

Reporters at a recently created newspaper in Colorado dug up a great deal of information about the cost of the large wildfires that occurred in Colorado this year. Jennifer Brown and Jason Blevins authored an article in The Colorado Sun that broke down many different categories of costs, from portable toilets to firefighting aircraft.

The data they collected came from the Colorado Division of Fire Protection and Control. A federal agency has not responded to a records request the newspaper filed months ago.

The article concentrates on two of the largest fires in Colorado this year — Spring Creek  51 miles southwest of Pueblo, and Silver Creek near Kremmling.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

The drought-ravaged summer of 2018 was an expensive one for firefighting, with costs reaching an estimated $130 million for 18 fires, according to documents received by The Colorado Sun through a public records request to the state Division of Fire Protection and Control. Of that, the state’s share is more than $40 million.

That’s six times more than Colorado spent on fighting wildfires in 2017 and two and a half times what it spent in 2016. Ten fires last year cost just more than $10 million combined.

It is a very interesting well researched article –worth your time.

The Colorado Sun published their first edition on September 10. Many of the reporters came from the Denver Post and other newspapers that have had massive staff reductions in recent years. The Post, created in 1892, was purchased in 2010 by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, run by Heath Freeman under their Digital First Media umbrella. The organization has purchased 97 newspapers.

Below is an excerpt from an article published in Bloomberg March 26:

…But what sets Freeman apart is that he seems to have a rather unique view of a newspaper’s purpose. In this view, his papers are intended not so much to inform the public or hold officialdom to account, but to supply cash for Freeman to use elsewhere. His layoffs aren’t just painful. They are savage.

For instance, according to figures compiled by the NewsGuild, the union that represents workers at Digital First Media properties, the staff of the Denver Post has fallen from 184 journalists to 99 between 2012 and 2017.  The Pottstown Mercury in Pennsylvania went from 73 journalists in 2012 to 19 in 2017. That’s right: 19. The Norristown Times-Herald, also in Pennsylvania, shrank from 45 journalists to 12. The San Jose Mercury News and the Orange County Register, both of which had been dominant papers in their regions before Alden Global bought them, have also been decimated by layoffs.

[…]

But the pattern continues. Last week, no sooner had Digital First Media closed on its purchase of the Boston Herald than it announced that it would cut the staff from 240 employees to 175.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Fire districts in Colorado hope to forestall drastic budget cuts

At least 50 fire districts support ballot measures in November 6 election to stabilize tax receipts

Horse Park Fire
The Horse Park Fire, May 27 in southwest Colorado. Screenshot from a Hotchkiss Fire District video.

In  Colorado the effects of multiple constitutional amendments have combined, resulting in unintended consequences that have repeatedly reduced tax receipts for fire districts. Automatic changes in the tax rates will continue unless voters, county by county, approve ballot measures on November 6.

Below is an excerpt from The Journal:

Under the Gallagher [Constitutional] Amendment, 45 percent of the total amount of state property tax collected must come from residential property, and 55 percent of the property tax collected must come from commercial property.

The amendment mandates that the assessment rate for commercial property, which is responsible for 55 percent of the total state property tax burden, be fixed at 29 percent. The residential rate, on the other hand, is annually adjusted to hold the 45/55 split constant.

Because of skyrocketing home values on the Front Range, the residential tax rate was dropped statewide to stay within Gallagher’s ratio requirements. In Montezuma County, the residential tax rate recently dropped from 7.9 percent to 7.2 percent and is expected to drop further to 6 percent in 2019.

As home values continue to rise, the tax rates on residences automatically decrease, resulting in shrinking budgets for fire districts.

Another Constitutional amendment, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, mandates that the property tax rate can’t change without voter approval.

On next week’s ballot is a third amendment, Amendment 73, a very complex tax measure. If it passes, according to The Business Times, it  “will fund schools by funneling property tax revenues away from fire departments and other special districts’ budgets to give it to schools.”

What 50 fire districts in 20 counties in Colorado are hoping is that in next week’s election voters in each county will approve ballot measures that will stabilize fire protection funding. With the previous tax receipt reductions, and more expected in the next few years, many fire districts are in dire financial straits and worry that they will have to lay off firefighters and close fire stations.

From the Summit Daily: “Our budgets have been dropping for a long time,” said Jeff Berino, fire chief at Summit Fire & EMS. “Every two years we’ve been seeing less income. We’ve absorbed the hits over the years, but it’s time to draw a line in the sand.”

And it will only get worse unless voters can be convinced that this complex situation needs to be fixed and approve the ballot initiatives on Tuesday.

The video below, posted by the Rocky Mountain Fire District, explains the interaction between two Colorado constitutional amendments (Gallagher and Taxpayers Bill of Rights) and the effect on fire departments in the state.

This is a  complex situation that can’t be easily and quickly explained. Some voters might be scared into not approving the ballot measures, hearing that they have something to do with taxes. Firefighters have their work cut out for them to communicate the message that the ongoing automatic reductions in tax revenue for the fire districts need to be reversed and stabilized. If that does not happen, they may be forced into implementing drastic cuts in fire and emergency services.

All three of these Colorado constitutional amendments, crafted with insufficient thought, work together in ways that are unintended, with very severe and negative effects on fire districts.