Heavy Moisture Could Douse Future Fire Bans This Summer

Memories of High Chateau Blaze Still Linger

By Trevor Phipps

In 2018, the entire state saw extremely dry conditions that riddled Colorado with a slew of devastating forest fires.

Teller County was not sparred as the Four Mile area incurred major damage from the High Chateau fire that burned over 1,000 acres and set ablaze nearly a dozen structures. Memories from this event  still abound, especially among southern Teller residents

However, this year the tides have changed and Mother Nature has blessed the Pikes Peak region with elevated amounts of moisture thus far this winter. Authorities don’t believe we will experience another dry summer that brings about fire bans and scary, life-threatening wildfires.

According to Cripple Creek Fire Chief Dean O’Nale, the increased amount of snow that has plagued the region recently could equate to brighter pastures for the summer as far as the threat of major forest fires goes. “Due to the amount of moisture the area has seen this winter, the fire dangers are currently sitting around average,” the fire chief said. “And it is projected that the fire danger will remain to be average until June.”

This is great news for campers and outdoor enthusiasts since the experts do not think that the fire dangers will be as high as they were last summer. An “average fire danger” suggests that fire bans will not be as rampant as they have been the last couple of years but that a risk for wildfires still exists.

Last year, fires riddled the area as early as April and by June, an unprecedented stage three fire ban was put in place for Teller County. This year, authorities do not believe that will be the case which is good news for those who were threatened by the fires that blazed in the county last year.


High Chateau Fire Prosecution

The High Chateau fire was the most devastating fire that has hit the area since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012. Recently, the three suspects who pleaded guilty to arson charges for accidentally igniting the vicious wildfire, were given their sentences by a local judge.

Last summer in late June, the blaze was reported south of Florissant near the Evergreen Station shopping center. The flames spread quickly and threatened hundreds of homes. State and federal resources were utilized to help extinguish the large burning area. But, before the fire was put out by the crews, it destroyed 11 homes and torched 1,400 acres of land.

The investigation took several days while police conducted many interviews. Eventually, three suspects were arrested on counts of arson. Police determined that David Renfrow, 23,  Kegan Owens, 19, and a 17-year-old-boy started the wildfire when they had a campfire at night on June 28, 2018 on a vacant piece of land in the area. The three were camping with a fire during a time when a stage three fire ban was active.

In court when they pleaded guilty to the charges, the suspects said that they left the area because they were spooked by a bear and tried to put the fire out.

Earlier this month the three arson suspects were sentenced by the Fourth Judicial District Judge Scott Sells. The two men were facing a maximum of 18 months of prison time for the charges when they went to their final court date. During court, several victims who had lost their homes in the fire showed up and spoke out for the suspects. Even though the victims were devastated by the wildfire and the toll it took, many felt that lengthy jail sentences were not necessary for the three.

In court the judge acknowledged the men’s apologies but then said, “that’s not enough,” and described their behavior as being “absolute criminal stupidity.” The judge decided to only give the two adults short stints behind bars with a lengthy amount of probation.

Owens was sentenced 60 days in jail and then 10 years of unsupervised probation upon release. Renfrow was ordered to serve 70 days in jail and ten years of probation. He also was given the extra 10 days in jail because he was the oldest of the three males that were involved in the crime.

Along with their sentences the three are expected to have to pay a large amount of restitution. The total amount has not yet been determined and the prosecutors have 90 days to come up with a number that is expected to be in the millions. During court, Owens and Renfrow promised that they would do what they could to pay the victims back.