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Las Animas code enforcement officer accused of starting Fort Lyon River Fire

Fort Lyon River Fire in April 2022.
Fort Lyon River Fire in April 2022.(KKTV)
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 9:41 AM MDT
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BENT COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - Authorities say it was a Las Animas code enforcement officer who started a nearly 3,000-acre fire that forced an entire community to evacuate last month.

According to an arrest affidavit obtained by 11 News, Charles Champney called the Bent County Dispatch Center on April 11 to get approval to burn the city-owned Las Animas Limb Pile. When his request was declined due to a red flag warning, he allegedly went ahead the next day and started a fire at the site anyway. That fire quickly got out of control and escaped the burn pile -- becoming the Fort Lyon River Fire.

Authorities say they knew early on that the brush fire originated at the limb pile and found Champney still burning materials when they went to the site on the 13th. From the affidavit:

“As I was walking through the limb pile, I observed a large pile of debris in the middle of the limb pile perimeter and there were active flames. Las Animas city employee, Charles Gregory Champney, code enforcement ... was burning a pile of limbs and other wood debris. Greg was using a large bucket-loader to move the debris around, and the fire was growing in size and intensity. As this part of an active investigation, I asked Mr. Champney to put out the fire and to cease burning until I was completed with my investigation. Mr. Champney got upset with me and told me he would put it out when he was done. I told him, again, that I was conducting an investigation and that the limb pile would be shut down until further notice. I sat in my marked Bent County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle and watched as Mr. Champney continued to burn the pile.”

At the time the sheriff’s deputy first spoke with the suspect, the Fort Lyon River Fire had already burned hundreds of acres and caused the whole town of Fort Lyon to evacuate. It would be several more days before the fire was contained; it would ultimately destroy two homes and kill several livestock.

Investigators have concluded that the fire was “a direct result of the careless and unattended burning of limbs and debris on a high-wind, red flag day at the Las Animas Limb Pile.”

Champney faces a slew of charges, including first-degree, second-degree and fourth-degree arson, as well as reckless endangerment.

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