Investigation focuses on construction crew
August 2, 2002
Felony or misdemeanor charges will likely be filed soon against at least one member of a construction crew that allegedly started the Panorama fire on Missouri Heights.
The fire, which burned across 1,600 acres and consumed three homes, was allegedly started by employees of Mendoza Concrete of Carbondale. The crew was working on the foundation of a house being built at 805 Buck Point Drive in the Panorama Estates subdivision, about four miles up from the Catherine’s Store light on Highway 82.
Investigators from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office say the fire was ignited by a saw used to cut through steel reinforcement bars. They still are not sure whether the fire was started by sparks from the saw or a hot piece of discarded metal, nor have they determined who is actually responsible for the fire – the employee using the saw or a supervisor overseeing him.
Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri said an arrest is all but sure once those responsible are identified.
If the worker using the saw was acting with disregard about the fire danger, in spite of management orders to be cautious, the charges will likely be limited to that individual. If he was ordered to use the saw in spite of his own reservations, the supervisor will probably be arrested. If the crew acted with reckless disregard the entire time it was on the project, several people face possible arrest, Dalessandri said.
Deputies have spent the past two days interviewing the owner, the general contractor and other potential witnesses.
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The property where the fire started is owned by Hans Brucker. He was unavailable for comment last night.
Dalessandri said the investigation is focusing on the Mendoza Concrete crew; Brucker and his general contractor are being interviewed as witnesses rather than suspects.
“No arrests have been made, but we anticipate an arrest will be made at the end of the investigation,” Dalessandri said at a press conference last night.
He said charges being contemplated include fourth-degree arson, a class four felony that carries stiff penalties, including possible time in prison, and setting a fire in woods or prairies, a class two misdemeanor.
The penalties for starting wildland fires were stiffened significantly by the state Legislature in a special session earlier this summer. Years of drought have made the state’s forests and prairies highly susceptible to fire. Several of the fires this year, including the massive Hayman fire that burned more than 100,000 acres on the Front Range, were allegedly started intentionally.
Dalessandri said the stiffer laws now make the penalty for starting a fire through reckless disregard – a possibility with the Panorama fire – the same as for arson.
“If they took precautions and things went awry, that will certainly mitigate the charges,” he said.
The owner of Mendoza Concrete declined comment.
Fire investigators with the Carbondale fire department have yet to determine the extent of the damage from the fire, said incident information officer Kim Andree.
“We haven’t had any insurance adjusters in there to estimate the damages,” she said.
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