Beaver Creek Fire Investigation Focused On One Man

By: KKTV Email
By: KKTV Email

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.

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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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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Wow on Aug 31, 2011 at 05:43 PM
    You don't need a search warrant to search abandoned property!
  • by @copperhead Location: C/S on Aug 23, 2011 at 12:14 AM
    Thanks for standing up to Larry with me, I ogt a feeling you know a few people on PLVFD
  • by Copperhead on Aug 22, 2011 at 08:46 AM
    Correction: "BETWEEN" Tri-Lakes and the other fire departments in the North Group. Tri-Lakes is more interested in taking over other departments (like Woodmoor).
  • by Copperhead on Aug 21, 2011 at 06:32 PM
    Larry, thank you for your very mature comment. In fact, Palmer Lake Fire had several certified wildland firefighters on scene, including a few with more than 20 yrs experience on federal fires in CA, SD, TX, UT and OK. Yes, every organization has a few jerks, and you've just proven that Tri-Lakes has at least one. Apparently you are not interested in mutual aid, assistance and working together - a longstanding problem with Tri-Lakes and other fire departments in the North Group. Have a nice day.
  • by @Larry Location: C/S on Aug 21, 2011 at 05:23 PM
    So what give you the right to criticize Palmer Lake Fire? Because there not a paid dept or because your cant do what they do?
  • by @Joey Location: Palmer Lake on Aug 21, 2011 at 03:50 PM
    I'm pretty sure that at some point the firefighters need to/are required to take breaks. It would be dangerous if they didn't. Do you think that someone should regulate how firefighters spend their break time? Last I heard this was a somewhat free country. Let the guy play Nintendo.
  • by @KKTV on Aug 21, 2011 at 02:42 PM
    Who is "Bellah"????
  • by Glen S on Aug 21, 2011 at 02:01 PM
    Nice job to all the El Paso county residents that continually vote down small tax hikes for public safety! Glad go hear all the agencies that are helping in the efforts.
  • by Joey on Aug 21, 2011 at 12:41 PM
    Thought Matt P was an idiot till I headed up to my brothers and saw a guy playing a Nintendo DS on the back bumper of a fire truck!
  • by Faux Left Location: CS on Aug 21, 2011 at 10:50 AM
    @Matt you are an idiot. The Tea Party is talking about real waste in government spending. Massive programs that are mismanaged, and other programs that are complete failures. Even wanting to shrink an ever growing government that is trying to create a nanny state society. But, putting out a fire with the assistance of the government paid, AFA Base Fire Department is not a waist in spending, but a practical and positive use of available resources. Perhaps you should stop overdoing your self medications, and don't talk for the Tea Party anymore.
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