|Multiple agencies responded Tuesday afternoon, August 23, to a series of odd roadside fires spread along Highway 96 on both sides of Wetmore. Initial speculations as to their origin included suggestions from possible sparking from a chain-dragging truck to an erratic arsonist.
Dave Tonsing, Chief of the Wet Mountain Fire Protection District, who served as incident commander for the six hour operation, says “It went smoothly; in Custer County alone there were six consecutive fires burning from east to west between mile markers 21 and 28, all of them along the west bound lane.”
Fourteen trucks, over 30 fire fighters, and a helicopter were under Tonsing’s command. The other four roadside fires were in Pueblo County, with the eastern most in the Pueblo Reservoir area. No structues were threatened during the course of the afternoon.
Other firefighting units that stopped the ten spot fires from forming into a major conflagration included the Wetmore Volunteer Fire Department, Florence Fire Department, Buelah Fire Department, Pueblo County agencies, Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service. The Custer County Sheriff’s Office also responded of course, and for a time closed off Highway 96 from McKenzie Junction east.
Gene Mackinnon, Florence district chief, was with his crew along the Lewis Creek trailhead turnoff west of Wetmore. “It was oak brush, grass, a bit of everything,” he reports of what is believed to have been the largest of the many fire locations. Mackinnon was under the impression that the strange and near simultaneous fires are indeed under investigation. The Wetmore Fire Department was also reporting that the fires are under investigation and “in the Sheriff’s hands.”
As of press time, the Sheriff’s Office understood that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation officer visiting the sites with deputies Wednesday, looking for possible accelerants, was determining that the fires did not appear to be intentional, and were likely accidental. An official report was not yet available.
– W.A. Ewing