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Las Animas code enforcement officer received raise hours after allegedly starting Fort Lyon fire

LAS ANIMAS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Hours after allegedly starting the Fort Lyon Fire in Bent County last month, the city of Las Animas employee received a raise from his employer. 

According to an arrest affidavit obtained by 13 Investigates, 67-year-old Las Animas Code Enforcement Officer Charles “Gregory” Champney is accused of starting the Fort Lyin Fire on April 12.

13 Investigates has learned that the same day the fire broke out, Champney received a raise from the City of Las Animas. During a regular meeting on April 12, Las Animas City Council voted to give a $5 an hour raise for all full-time city employees.

That raise affected 23 Las Animas city employees, including Champney.

According to the city’s Mayor, 67-year-old Champney was placed on paid administrative leave following his Monday arrest.

However, while he's out on administrative leave, Champney will continue to receive payments from his $52,000 annual salary.

Champney currently faces three felony-level arson charges related to the nearly 3,000-acre Fort Lyon fire, according to Bent County Undersheriff Wick Turner. 

According to the affidavit, Champney contacted the Bent County Dispatch Center to ask if he could start a fire and burn the Las Animas Limb Pile on April 11. Due to the area being under a Red Flag Warning, he was told he could not burn at the Limb Pile.

However, the following day Las Animas firefighters responded to two separate fires at the Las Animas Limb Pile at 11 am and 1:30 pm. In both instances, firefighters said the fire was out of control and outside of the limb pile’s boundaries.

Before the second call, firefighters told investigators that Champney was directed to cover the burning debris in the limb pile with dirt and extinguish the fire.

Around 7 p.m., while firefighters were actively working to contain the surging Fort Lyon fire, Champney told Las Animas City Council he is deserving of a raise. 

Court records show that at least $389,600 in property was lost in the fire, including a family’s residence, vehicles, and livestock. 

In court records obtained by 13 Investigates, fire investigators state that the Fort Lyon 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."

On April 15th, three days after the fire started, Champney told 13 Investigates he did not burn on the day the Fort Lyon fire started.

The main operator at the Las Animas Limb Pile was Champney. 

"Mr. Champney reports directly to the Las Animas City Council," Las Animas Mayor Scott Peterson told 13 Investigates in an email when asked why Champney was placed on paid administrative leave. "Consequently, any permeant change in employment status, if any, has to be made by the City Council which has not had the opportunity to meet since the release of the report on Monday.  Any status other than paid administrative leave will need to be made by the City Council at a future publicly noticed meeting."

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Dan Beedie

Dan is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about Dan here.

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