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Las Animas Mayor ‘believes in his heart’ city worker accused of starting Fort Lyon River Fire is innocent

BENT COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Mayor of Las Animas told 13 Investigates he believes the code enforcement officer facing three felony arson charges for intentionally starting the Fort Lyon River Fire will be found innocent.

Las Animas Code Enforcement Officer Charles Champney is accused of "intentionally starting burning of various limbs and wood debris on a high-wind, Red-Flag day with low humidity and high temperatures" and leaving the fire unattended.

Two of the charges he faces are related to property damages, totaling between $100,000 and $1 million.

The Las Animas Fire Department responded to the Limb Pile in Fort Lyon on April 11, 2022, for a fire that was out of control around 11 a.m. According to court documents obtained by 13 Investigates, Champney was burning debris despite being told not to earlier that day.

After getting the fire under control, crews told Champney to cover the burning debris and extinguish the flames. However, at 1:30 p.m., crews responded again to the Limb Pile for a second out-of-control fire.

According to the affidavit, the Fort Lyon River Fire forced a medical facility with more than 200 residents and staff, including a large number of residents with medical conditions, to be evacuated.

The fire burned nearly 3,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars in property.

Two days later, on April 13, court documents state Champney began burning debris again at the Limb Pile despite being told not to until the fire investigation was complete. Champney reportedly got upset and said he would put out the fire "when he was done."

Las Animas Mayor Scott Peterson told 13 Investigates Wednesday he believes the evidence collected by investigators and prosecutors is "hearsay," saying no one was there to witness Champney start the out-of-control fires.

"In my heart. And I'm not. I'm just the mayor. I'm not an attorney. But in my heart, in the hearings, I've gone through. Yes, everything that's been presented was hearsay and second-hand information. There were no eyewitnesses. It's all hearsay," Peterson said. "Look, Look at the investigative report. No one was there."

According to the clerk's office, Champney was put on paid administrative leave for roughly three months after he was arrested. He has since been allowed to work again for the city, under the caveat that he doesn't work with the burn pit.

"Hey, you're innocent until proven guilty." So let the court system do its deal, let this thing work out," said Peterson.

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Dan Beedie


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