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Charges dropped against Danish man accused of starting 2018 Spring Creek Fire near La Veta

By COLLEEN SLEVIN
Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — A judge has dismissed criminal charges against a mentally ill Danish man accused of starting the Spring Creek Fire in late June of 2018 that destroyed 141 homes near La Veta Pass, according to a report by the Associated Press.

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The former defendant, Jesper Joergensen, 56, was repeatedly found incompetent to stand trial.

KRDO NewsChannel 13 has learned that nearly 350 counts of felony arson were dropped against Joergensen, who's expected to be released from the state mental hospital following Monday's ruling.

KRDO

It's not clear where he will go but he will be a free man; Judge Gregory Lyman said that immigration officials didn't intend to deport him.

The Danish consulate declined to comment.

KRDO

Joergensen has been diagnosed with delusional disorder.

Authorities said that the fire started from an illegal campfire on July 27, 2018 and wasn't fully contained until September 10; it burned more than 108,000 acres along both sides of La Veta Pass in Huerfano and Costilla counties, becoming the the state's third-largest wildfire in terms of size.

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It's believed that authorities spent $32 million fighting the fire.

Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman said that most of the fire damage was on the west side of La Veta Pass, to summer homes in Costilla County.

KRDO

Joergensen's legal status has somewhat overshadowed Tuesday's municipal election in La Veta, where seven candidates are seeking to fill four vacancies on the town council.

"I was in my shop," said hairstylist Lluvia Musgrave. "A client who lost property in the fire, I was giving her a haircut and she mentioned to me that she heard the charges were likely going to get dropped. She was very upset, obviously, as for many others affected by the fire."

KRDO

Two people surprisingly calm about the situation are David and Peggy Zehring; they've been married for 59 years and lost seven buildings -- including their home -- on 160 acres burned by the fire.

"I never really had any expectation that it was going to make any difference to me, whether the accused would be deported back to Denmark, or stand trial," David said. "We knew we were never going to get any compensation out of it. So I guess I'm not surprised."

KRDO

His wife also isn't angry.

"I know (Joergensen is) mentally challenged and not really competent or quite in his right mind when he started the fire," Peggy said. "He didn't do it on purpose. He didn't set the fire to burn our house down. We don't think that's true. It's one of those things that happens."

The couple has insurance and sold their land, and found a house in town near to Peggy's art school.

KRDO

Peggy said that her most valuable loss was her collection of around 100 paintings; David said he'll most miss a beautiful Native American bearded shirt handed down from his parents.

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