The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a series of fires suspected to be caused by arson, and it’s seeking the public’s help.
Deputies responded to five small fires in the county from April 27 to May 4 that appear to have been set intentionally, according to Sheriff Steve Nowlin.
On May 4, he sent out a news release asking Montezuma County residents to contact the Sheriff’s Office with any information that could aid the investigation. As of Tuesday, Nowlin said, investigators had no suspects.
The April 27 fire burned about 800 square feet of brush near the 14000 block of County Road 33 before the Dolores Fire Department extinguished the flames. Deputies who responded to the scene initially suspected the fire had been caused by a lit cigarette or other flammable material being thrown from a passing vehicle, according to the incident report.
On April 29, deputies responded to three small fires: one in the 12000 block of County Road 33, one near the intersection of County Roads S and 36 and one near the intersection of Colorado Highway 184 and County Road 32. The May 4 fire occurred in the 32000 block of Colorado Highway 184, east of County Road S. Nowlin said most of these fires burned well away from any nearby roads, and no clear ignition source was found. Mike Zion, chief of the Dolores Fire Department, said that’s a red flag for fire investigators.
“If somebody flicks a cigarette on the ground or something like that, and causes a fire, the cigarette’s still there,” he said. “There was nothing like that here.”
He said the evidence, combined with witness statements from the last fire, led investigators to believe arson was involved, and he believes the fires were likely connected, since they occurred within a small area.
Zion said all the fires were put out before they could spread more than a few hundred square feet, and none resulted in property damage or injuries.
In the news release, the sheriff asked county residents to keep an eye out for any suspicious people or vehicles on county and U.S. Forest Service roads, and to call 911 or the Sheriff’s Office with information related to the fires.
No other suspicious fires were reported over the weekend, which Nowlin said is a good sign.
“Hopefully, getting the information out there got to the person or persons involved,” he said.
Nowlin said the Sheriff’s Office will work with the Forest Service’s fire prevention personnel and an arson K9 program in the investigation.
Another suspicious fire, which destroyed a garage in Mancos on April 20, also remains under investigation. Nowlin said his department has yet to determine its cause.
Although storms on Wednesday and Thursday brought some moisture to the county, Zion said fire danger is still high, and a countywide burn ban is still in effect.