Arson was the cause of the Lake Christine Fire, which has burned about 6,000 acres outside Basalt, Colorado, according to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
Two El Jebel residents each face charges of felony arson for their roles in starting a Colorado wildfire. The district attorney is seeking restitution for firefighting costs and the value of three homes that were destroyed, including one valued at $1 million.
The couple are accused of illegally firing tracer rounds at the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range. The range is owned and operated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). In addition to felony charges of fourth-degree arson, the couple are also charged with violation of a fire ban, District Attorney Bruce Brown said.
The maximum penalty for the arson charge is six years in prison. And violating the fire ban could bring up to 18 months in prison, Brown said. If the two are convicted, the DA intends to seek restitution for the three destroyed homes, as well as the cost to fight and extinguish the blaze.
The accused couple have cooperated with authorities and appeared to be distraught over igniting the fire, according to law enforcement staff.
Local officials have been critical of the CPW’s decision to keep the Basalt shooting range open despite Stage 2 fire restrictions throughout the county. U.S. Forest Service Stage 2 restrictions prohibit the use of firearms, except for those on a lawful hunt.
Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said he had reached out to CPW prior to the fire, but did not receive a response. CPW officials have defended their decision, stating that use of the shooting range would not have posed a fire hazard if it had been used responsibly.
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“The Basalt range is a great facility and is a very safe range,” said J.T. Romatzke, Northwest Regional manager for CPW. “The fire was caused by one person’s irresponsible behavior, not standard behavior practiced at a range. However, with these extreme drought conditions, we are closing our ranges out of an abundance of caution.”
As a result, all shooting ranges throughout CPW’s Northwest Region will be closed indefinitely. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has promised a full investigation into the shooting range incident.
Tracer rounds include a small pyrotechnic charge in their base which illuminates the path of fired bullets. They are often used by the military, primarily for training purposes.
In some states, tracers are illegal for civilians to own. According to CPW, tracer bullets and other devices with pyrotechnic charges are never allowed at any of their ranges.
At the time the accused couple began shooting tracers, fire restrictions (banning everything from charcoal grill fires to outdoor smoking) were in place. And while wildlife officers do patrol the ranges, the areas are not typically staffed full-time.
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