Teller County residents have had enough and are ready to combat an arsonist (or arsonists), suspected of triggering at least 20 local fires in the last week, with cash.
A new reward fund has been established as part of a community-wide effort organized to catch the instigators of a rash of fires that have created much fear in the region. The campaign kicked off late Friday afternoon through the help of representatives of several local business and government entities, including Park State Bank & Trust, The Mountain Jackpot (TMJ) newspaper, Help the Needy, the Teller County Sheriff’s Department and the Teller County Commissioners. Other businesses, such as additional financial institutions, are expected to join the campaign in the next week. “Our message is that these crimes will not be tolerated in our community,” said Tony Perry, president of Park State Bank & Trust. “This is a way for the citizens to fight back and do something about this situation. It’s amazing how many people have stepped up to plate in such a short time. It really shows the real strength of our community.”
The new reward fund, under the name Protect The Community, has been officially set up at Park State Bank & Trust, located at 710 W. Hwy. 24. Citizens are asked to use the bank’s drive-through or its main facility when making donations. The names of the donators will be taken, in case the money is returned. Anonymous donations are also being accepted. Plus, people can mail in donations, through Protect The Community Fund, Park State Bank & Trust, P.O. Box 9, Woodland Park, Co 80863.
Within a short time of having the fund started, the reward money hit the $1,000 mark. And by Saturday, the reward bounty nearly exceeded the $6,000 level, courtesy of additional donations by Park State Bank & Trust. “The response we have had has been unbelievable,” said Perry. Due to the Waldo Canyon fire disaster, interest in this reward drive has skyrocketed. The bank president said the impetus behind the drive stemmed from conversations he had with Charles Chambers, owner of CR Chambers Photography, and TMJ head photo editor and content director of the website for the Mountain Jackpot newspaper,www.mountainjackpot.com. “The hits on our website and social media sites absolutely exploded over this arson fire situation,” said Chambers. “People were looking for a way to help out. This offered a good way to get the community involved.” Perry credited representatives of TMJ, who helped put the fund concept into place, along with Mary Gonzales, board director for Help the Needy, Sheriff Mike Ensminger and the Teller County Commissioners. “Everyone came on board with no hesitation,” related Perry. The actual reward monies will be allocated by the commissioners, based on recommendations made by the sheriff, according to Perry. Gonzales also will help oversee the fund monies. And if no arrests occur and the fund continues for an extended period, a system has been established for returning the monies to the original donators, or to allocate funds for certain community projects or endeavors they favor. “There are enough checks and balances in place to make this really work well,” said the bank president.
But Perry and other community leaders hope that last step isn’t necessary and the reward fund leads to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetuators of these horrific fires. Prior to the establishment of the reward fund, the sheriff’s office received close to 100 calls within a several day period regarding probable suspects.