Suspects in fire unlikely to be found |

Suspects in fire unlikely to be found

The construction workers suspected of starting the Panorama fire last month were probably in the country illegally and have presumably fled to Mexico, according to authorities.

All of the men on the construction crew have been located by investigators except the two who allegedly operated a saw used to cut rebar, Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri said.

“As best we can tell, they were illegal,” said Dalessandri. He said their employment records with Mendoza Concrete of Carbondale made it appear that the men were in the country illegally.

Investigators haven’t been able to locate the two men since the July 31 fire in Missouri Heights. Dalessandri said it appears they fled immediately after the fire. It is possible they left the country, he said.

A Mendoza Concrete crew was working on the foundation of a new house at 805 Buck Point Drive in the Panorama Estates subdivision when a fire was somehow ignited. It is unclear whether sparks from the saw or discarded metal ignited the fire.

The fire eventually engulfed 1,600 acres, destroyed two houses and a residential tepee, damaged two other houses and destroyed a number of sheds, garages and other outbuildings.

Many structures were threatened but the blaze was controlled by the Basalt and Carbondale fire departments, with assistance from numerous agencies.

The fire-fighting cost alone was estimated at $400,000.

Dalessandri announced at the time of the fire that his department would determine whether fourth-degree arson charges were warranted against the construction workers responsible for starting the blaze.

Now that the two workers who were allegedly operating the saw have fled the area, it is uncertain what, if any, charges may still apply, Dalessandri said. It is unlikely that the arson charge would apply to “second and third parties,” said Dalessandri. He was referring to parties such as supervisors of the two men, the contractor and the owner of the property.

Dalessandri said the owner of Mendoza Concrete has met with investigators accompanied by his lawyer.

The sheriff said he and his investigators will review the case with the Garfield County attorney to see what charges other than fourth-degree arson may apply, with the goal of identifying someone as potentially responsible for the losses incurred. Dalessandri said his staff will also consult with District Attorney Mac Myers.

“We hope to wrap it up within a week,” said Dalessandri.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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