Basalt police: Shooting-range fire deemed an accident | AspenTimes.com

Basalt police: Shooting-range fire deemed an accident

Scott Condon The Aspen Times

BASALT – The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office has ended its investigation into the cause of a fire Saturday at the Basalt Shooting Range and deemed it accidental, a spokeswoman said Monday.

“Due to witnesses’ statements, they think it was accidental,” said spokeswoman Jessie Mosher, referring to investigators. No criminal charges will be pursued, she said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which owns and operates the shooting range, agrees with the conclusion, according to Perry Will, Area 8 wildlife manager. Wildlife officers consulted with officials with the Basalt Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office and concluded getting a conviction would be next to impossible, Will said.

“It would be pretty hard to nail down who caused it and even harder on what caused it,” he said.

Will, a wildlife officer for 37 years, said his instincts tell him the fire was the result of a prohibited activity, but he declined to speculate what kind of activity. Investigators ruled out use of an explosive target or tracer bullets, which are banned this summer because of dry conditions.

Steel-jacketed bullets also are prohibited because they can produce a spark when they strike a target. Users of the rifle range, where the fire started, are supposed to place their targets no farther than 100 yards away in front of a dirt berm rather than on the hillside behind the berm. The fire started on that hillside, which is covered with grass, pinyon and juniper trees.

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The fire broke out around noon Saturday and burned 2 acres before firefighters contained it. The fire spread up the hillside and was running toward a ridge. Part of The Wilds housing complex was evacuated as a precaution, but no structures were threatened, and no people were hurt. The fire departments of Carbondale, Snowmass Village and Aspen rendered mutual aid to Basalt. The Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit sent a single-engine tanker to the scene to spread retardant upslope from the fire.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will transport heavy equipment to the shooting range Wednesday to reduce fire risk. “We’ll do some mitigation work definitely before we reopen,” Will said.

That work will include shaving grass and brush and creating a fire break on the perimeter of the range, removing some trees and building up the berm at the 100-yard mark at the rifle range to create a backstop.

Will said his staff will consult with Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson and Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane to make sure everyone is comfortable with the mitigation work. He said he is aware that sportsmen want the range opened as quickly as possible, but that won’t happen until appropriate steps are taken.

“Before we reopen it, we’re going to feel pretty darn safe in a situation like we had Saturday,” Will said.

The Basalt Shooting Range is near Lake Christine, less than 1 mile from downtown Basalt. It has operated for about five decades without a previous wildfire, Will noted. He said he is also unaware of a fire starting at any range when lead bullets were used.

scondon@aspentimes.com