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Arson suspected in 4 Bayfield fires
4/11/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
Area police and fire departments are looking for a firebug after four fires were set in dry brush Tuesday afternoon near Bayfield. All were right next to roads.
They are being investigated for possible links with 13 other fires since Sunday in Archuleta County and the Ignacio area. Two of the four Tuesday afternoon fires were on Highway 160B — one just west of the twin bridges and one near the electric substation farther west. Two were on County Road 521.
Upper Pine Fire Chief Rich Graeber said Los Pinos firefighters were dispatched at around 12:45 p.m. Tuesday to a fire in the 7700 block of CR 521, which is in Upper Pine’s district.
Graeber said he was headed that way and came upon another fire burning uncontrolled in brush next to the road just south of the stop sign at Mars Drive.
As firefighters were responding to those two calls, they got calls for the fires on 160B.
The fire just west of the twin bridges threatened an old wood plank fence around the old wooden slaughterhouse. It was confined to a small area. The fire farther west burned a larger area and threatened a house as well as the electric substation.
The fire near Mars Drive was contained to a very small area, but the fire farther south burned around two acres on a moderately steep slope with a house at the top. Graeber said Los Pinos firefighters stationed themselves to protect the house.
Graeber was at that fire, trying to keep track of the status of the other fires, and keep track of Upper Pine responders to see who would be available for other fire or medical calls.
Two other fire calls came at around 2:15 p.m., but they turned out to be controlled burns – one at County Road 516/ 518, and one in the 2300 block of CR 521.
“The first two fires stretched our resources very thin,” he said. “The mutual aid from Los Pinos Fire and Durango Fire, as well as quick response by some of our volunteers and off-duty staff kept these fires small.”
Graeber called this sort of activity very dangerous and said it was fortunate that no one was hurt and no buildings burned Tuesday. The fires burned dangerously close to three structures, he said.
“If these fires were started by the same individual or individuals, they have moved from rural areas to more populated areas which has the potential to involve homes or other buildings,” Graeber said.
He urged locals to be vigilant for any suspicious activity, and if they see anything to get good descriptions of the person(s) and vehicle, and call 911.
The fires are being investigated jointly by several fire and law enforcement agencies from La Plata and Archuleta Counties, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Graeber said.
In February and March, Upper Pine was kept busy with house fires north of Bayfield, most of them at Forest Lakes, causing some residents to worry about an arsonist.
Graeber said causes have been determined for all but one of those and they weren’t considered suspicious. But the most recent one, that destroyed a seasonal A frame cabin at Forest Lakes on March 25, is considered suspicious and is still under investigation, he said.
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