Colorado man faces charges over destructive wildfire

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 19, 2011 3:59 PM
Colorado man faces charges over destructive wildfire

DENVER (Reuters) - A man who admitted accidentally starting a 3000-acre wildfire that destroyed 13 homes in the mountains west of Fort Collins, Colorado earlier this month will be charged with arson, police said on Tuesday.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Thomas Howie, 35, John Schulz, spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, told Reuters.

The Crystal Fire erupted April 1 as high winds fanned the flames through narrow canyon walls and into two subdivisions, destroying 13 houses and forcing the overnight evacuations of hundreds of others.

Police were led to Howie after his attorney contacted investigators on April 6, saying Howie had information about the fire.

Howie told investigators he was burning debris on his parents' property in the mountain canyon when the fire got out of control. He left the scene without reporting the fire which led to the arson charge, Schulz said.

Schulz said Howie has cooperated with investigators, and will turn himself in by the end of the week, when he will be charged with one count of fourth-degree felony arson.

Fourth-degree felony arson carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

It took 450 firefighters 10 days to bring the blaze under control, and three firefighters sustained injuries during the suppression efforts.

Authorities put the cost of fighting the fire at $3 million.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton)