by Rick Langenberg:
A criminal inquiry into the Waldo Canyon fire that torched nearly 400 homes and killed two people, along with evacuating more than 30,000 people in Teller and El Paso counties and costing millions in property damages and government expenses, won’t win any awards for speed.
Last week, officials reported that the blaze was caused by human actions, but stopped well short of throwing out the arson word. And leaders of a task force, formed to investigate the blaze that received national attention, have hinted they need more information or possibly a confession to move forward with their case. Officials have determined that the fire, which led to the evacuation of about 5,000 people in the Ute Pass and Woodland Park area, was started about within 3 miles of the Waldo Canyon trailhead, located off U.S. Hwy. 24. In addition, they believe it was human-caused. But whether the fire was an accident or set intentionally, or part of an arson attempt, is still unknown. “Anyone who thinks they have information, or may have seen someone in the area, that is important to us,” said Colorado Springs Police Lt. Adrian Vasquez, a leader of the task force, during a press conference last week. “We still have a lot of tips we need to go through.” The fire investigation update was extremely brief. District Attorney Dan May also made a few comments that raised more questions than answers. “We don’t know if it (the Waldo Canyon fire) was accidental or intentional, so I can’t say whether charges will be filed,” said May.
Fire task authorities, though, say they can’t release too many details at this point for fear of compromising their investigation. The lack of official statements regarding the fire inquiry has prompted many concerns from area residents who lost their homes or were displaced for lengthy periods. They can’t understand the delays in handling the investigation with the dry conditions that prevailed during the fire in late June. They believe this was an ideal time to search for clues.
Even during the daily Waldo Canyon fire press briefings, officials from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office indicated they were making strong progress in locating the origin of the blaze. But since these reports, aired around the time when many El Paso and Teller residents were given the okay to return to their homes, little information has circulated regarding the fire investigation. The task force consists of representatives of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Springs police and fire departments, along with the FBI and ATF agencies. The fire, which shut down Hwy. 24 for more than a week and paralyzed local commerce, has forced government officials to try to recoup money. Already, Teller officials estimate that the Waldo Canyon fire cost the government at least $100,000.