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Conflict & Tragedy

Officials' vague answers fuel more speculation about cause of worst wildfire in Colorado history

Authorities assured the public that answers concerning the cause of Colorado's catastrophic Waldo Canyon fire would be forthcoming. Wednesday's press conference proved to be anything but.

Officials have cryptically acknowledged that the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history stemmed from human causes, apparently bolstering what many residents already believed. Officials convened a press conference Wednesday to report on the blaze. The fire, which started on June 23, killed two people, caused the evacuation of more than 32,000, and destroyed over 29 square miles (74 km) of forest land, along with 346 homes. Damage is estimated at more than $300 million.

The report comes much later than initially expected. Officials had already received backlash from some residents who showed up at the daily press conferences during the fire. Several residents expressed frustration at what they perceived as authorities withholding information from the outset of the incident.

The seemingly erratic behavior of the fire also fueled speculations of arson. These speculations came to a head when the fire did something completely unexpected.

On June 26, while officials gave their daily briefing on the progress of firefighting efforts, the blaze broke through a containment line and raced downhill towards heavily populated subdivisions in Colorado Springs. The fire almost completely engulfed the Mountain Shadows subdivision, destroying or severely damaging the majority of the homes there. So intense was the conflagration that many homes were reduced to nothing but ashes. Several residents reported barely escaping the areas before the fire was upon them.

It now appears that residents may have been correct in assuming officials were withholding vital information. Once again authorities seem to be playing “20 questions” as they have declined to say whether they believe the fire was intentionally or accidentally set. However, there are still multiple local and federal agencies involved in the investigation, including an ongoing homicide investigation stemming from the two deaths as a result of the fire. The homicide aspect is being conducted by Sgt. Adrian Vasquez of the Colorado Springs Police Department Violent Crimes Unit, which has jurisdiction in the matter.

Authorities are continuing to reach out to the public for leads in an investigation that seems to be headed nowhere. At least as far as the public is concerned.

Sources close to the investigation have confirmed that the cause of the fire is known but have declined to elaborate any further other than reveal the apparent origin of the fire. Investigators believe the fire started in an area about three miles from the Waldo Canyon trail head off Highway 24.

Resources from the CSPD, Colorado Springs Fire Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office, the El Paso County DA's office, FBI, ATF and Forest Service are reportedly working together on the investigation.

Officials continue to stress that they realize the fire may have been started accidentally and have urged the possible culprit(s) to contact them. So far no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the blaze.

Meanwhile residents continue to wait on answers long overdue as to the cause of the disaster.