National News

Man Faces Arson Charge in Connection With Colorado Wildfire

Posted July 1, 2018 9:40 p.m. EDT

Officials arrested a Danish man they tied to the start of a destructive fire in southern Colorado that has grown to more than 40,000 acres and forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes.

The Costilla County Sheriff’s Office classified the blaze, known as the Spring Fire, as “human caused” and said deputies had arrested Jesper Joergensen, 52, on arson charges, it said in a Facebook post Saturday.

At a meeting with residents Sunday, however, officials clarified that the person they had in custody had not intentionally started the fire. They did not offer further details, and sheriff’s officials were not immediately available for additional comment.

In a statement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Joergensen was a resident of Denmark. The agency said it placed an immigration detainer on him Thursday after his arrest. It was not clear if he had a lawyer.

The fire, which started Wednesday near Fort Garland, Colorado, 250 miles south of Denver, has raged uncontained for days and razed an unspecified number of structures.

“It’s a very challenging fire, I’ll be honest with you, with all the wind changes,” Shane Greer, an incident commander, told residents Sunday. “We haven’t been able to chase this because it keeps going in at least three different directions. Every time we turn around, it switches and moves.”

Still, the Spring Fire is only the second largest of about 10 wildfires burning across the state. The 416 Fire, about 175 miles to the west, burned more than 47,000 acres through June and was 37 percent contained as of late Saturday.

High summer temperatures have combined with gusty winds; a prolonged, severe drought; and an abundance of available fuels — such as dry timber, brush and vegetation — to create a dire start to the fire season in the Western United States.

This past week, a fire in northern California burned thousands of acres and destroyed 22 structures, about half of them houses. As of Sunday, more than a dozen major wildfires were raging in various parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

In Colorado, residents of parts of Huerfano and Costilla counties were ordered to evacuate. One of the areas evacuated was Forbes Park, which contains more than 3,300 lots of up to 14 acres.

“You all doing OK today? Hanging in there?” Greer asked residents Sunday. “We know it’s tough.”