Beaver Creek Fire Investigation Focused On One Man

The U.S. Forest Service has applied for a federal warrant to search a fire-damaged backpack discovered within the area scorched by the Beaver Creek Fire. According to the document, they’ve also questioned a man who was spotted wandering in the area.

Homeowners tell 11 News they suspected that the fire was started by someone. "I thought man-made because there were no lightning strikes or anything," said Elaine Normandy.

The Beaver Creek Fire burned about 100 acres on Green Mountain, northwest of the Air Force Academy. According to the search warrant, multiple area residents reported seeing a strange man walking on the mountain just before the fire started as several separate columns of smoke on the afternoon of Friday, August 19.

The next day, a man who matched the previous descriptions was reported to have approached two women in a home near the burned area. According to the search warrant affidavit, they said the man asked for water and acted strangely. He had cuts and scrapes on his arms and claimed that he had been wandering lost for several days.

After getting water from the women, he was spotted by officers who were investigating the fire’s cause. According to the documents, the man refused several orders to stop as he ran through the forest. A few moments later, another officer stopped the man, who was identified as Michael Anthony Penn.

Penn was eventually taken into custody on Dr. Jay Campbell's land. "Angry to know that someone would deliberately destroy something like that without taking into account the damages that occurred," said Dr. Campbell.

During questioning, Penn told officers that he had run out of gas on a drive from Denver and decided to go for an impromptu hike. He said he became lost and confused. As the questioning continued, his story became inconsistent.

Back at the burned area, the affidavit says officers found a burned backpack that they believe belonged to Penn. In the search warrant, they’re asking for permission to inspect it and all that contains for evidence of arson.

The document expressly says that the investigator believes Penn did set the Beaver Creek Fire.

Previous Coverage: Fire Near Air Force Academy Now 95 Percent Contained

Rainy weather Saturday night helped keep the Beaver Creek Fire at bay, as the fire remains at 100 acres. The fire is now 95 percent contained as of Sunday evening. About 144 firefighters are there.

The fire burning on Green Mountain, northwest of the Air Force Academy, started Friday afternoon.

Residents like Darek Krepuszewski continue to look to the west closely as the blackened hillside smolders. He and his family clap and cheer for every fire fighter who passes by their front door, encouraging them for all the hard work they're doing.

Although the flames are no longer leaping into the sky, Darek won't turn his back on the smoky scar in his overlooking his back yard.
"It's a straight shot, and [the fire] could move down here, so it's real close," Darek said.

U.S. Forest officials would not comment on reports circulating in the neighborhood about a man acting suspiciously, or an abandoned car being found in the area.

Bellah said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Saturday, four crews continued to work on getting the fire contained, as well as one Type 1 helicopter and one Type 3 helicopter.

The fire was first reported around 2:15 Friday afternoon when it was the size of a football field. It grew as it burned timber, oak brush and grass.

Fire crews from multiple agencies got to work on the mountain once the call came in, while helicopters have been dropping water on the flames.

The fire is burning on U.S. Forest Service land, and the Forest Service had a tanker and personnel on scene as well.

Agencies helping so far have included: Tri Lakes, Westcott, Larkspur, Air Force Academy and El Paso County, among others. In all, 50 firefighters were dropping slurry and working against the flames Friday with more expected to be on scene Saturday.

No residents of the area have been evacuated at this time, and authorities on the scene don't expect any structures to be damaged.

One man who lives at the base of Green Mountain told 11 News he jumped into action when he saw the flames.

"I was cutting all the grass around the house, making it as short as possible, just so if it did come over here there would be little or no fuel for it,” Kent Dixon said.

Fire officials said Friday's cloud cover did help slow the spread of the fire, something many neighbors were thankful for, as well as the low winds.

"It's bad out here because we're all on wells, and they have to truck water in,” Patricia Olson said.

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