by Rick Langenberg
A new reward fund, 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 Teller County region, continues to grow. And with the Waldo Canyon fire reaching a mini-conclusion, organizers of the drive are quite optimistic that this fund, set up at Park State Bank & Trust in Woodland Park, will accelerate even more.
The campaign was recently started through the cooperation 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. “Our message is that these crimes will not be tolerated in our community,” said Tony Perry, president of Park State Bank & Trust, in a recent interview, regarding at least 20 suspicious arson-related fires started in the Teller County area. “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 the plate in such a short time. It really shows the real strength of our community.”
By the close of business on July 2, the bank president estimated that the award fund had already hit the $8,375 mark. That’s a fairly impressive amount, considering the fact that many residents in the area were evacuated as a result of the Waldo Canyon fire. “A lot of people have been preoccupied with the Waldo Canyon fire,” said Perry. “That has been on everyone’s mind.” He believes that now, with the Waldo fire danger diminishing for area residents, interest in the arson fund will definitely increase. “We have started to receive a lot of calls from people who want to contribute,” added Perry. The fund, under the name Protect The Community, has been officially established 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. However, no personal information will be used. 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. For more information, call 719-687-9234.
According to Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, investigators are continuing their search for the arsonist (or arsonists) responsible for these horrific blazes. Ensminger said Monday afternoon agency authorities have received many leads, but haven’t named any suspects. He said an investigation into the Teller County suspected arsons is separate from the ongoing inquiry regarding the Waldo Canyon fire, now rated as the most destructive blaze in Colorado history. That investigation is being headed by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, which has established a tip line.