Origin of Fourmile Canyon blaze may have been a fire pit

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenSeptember 13, 2010
A volunteer firefighter's home fire pit likely triggered the Fourmile Canyon blaze that sent thousands of residents fleeing as 166 homes burned to the ground, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office said Monday.
Firefighters fighting the Fourmile fire.
Boulder Office of Emergency Management

The man made a fire in the pit in the days before the devastating blaze erupted, and the volunteer firefighter had doused the pit with water and stirred the ashes, the sheriff's office reported. But strong winds on the morning of Sept. 6 are suspected to have reignited the ashes.

"The investigation is continuing and it is unknown if criminal charges will be pursued," the Boulder County Sheriff's Office said in a statement released to the media Monday. "For criminal charges to be pursued, the resident would have had to act in a reckless or criminally negligent manner."

Channel 7 News in Denver reported that the Boulder County resident who owns the pit is 71 years old and is a 20-year veteran of the volunteer fire department in Fourmile Canyon. His house also burned.

Initially, propane was thought to have been the cause of the fire. That speculation was fueled by a recording of the initial 911 calls and radio traffic that included a firefighter telling dispatch:

“We have a recreational vehicle fully involved. Propane tanks ... (inaudible) small 20-pound propane tanks … immediately threatening a 1,000-gallon propane tank in a steep gulch with up-channel winds.”

At another point on the recording, an official says: “It was a collision with a propane tank that caused this fire.”

Authorities, however, say that the official on the recording who blamed it on a vehicle colliding with a propane tank may have misinterpreted the radio traffic. The true origin of the fire, according to the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, appears to be embers from a residential fire pit that the wind ignited.

While the Fourmile Canyon fire is dying down and residents are returning to their homes, a second fire is burning out of control about 35 miles away in the grasslands and hills near the town of Loveland.

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