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Code enforcement officer arrested for causing Fort Lyon Fire

BENT COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Bent County Sheriff’s Office arrested the man accused of starting the Fort Lyon River Fire in April.

Las Animas Code Enforcement Officer, Charles Champney turned himself in to the Bent County Sheriff’s Office on Monday, according to Ben County Undersheriff Wick Turner.

Champney faces three felony arson charges, two of the charges are related to property damages totaling $100k - $1 million.

Monday, an arrest affidavit for Champney obtained by 13 Investigates states the fire was caused by the "intentional burning of various limbs and wood debris on a high-wind, Red-Flag day with low humidity and high temperatures, as well as the fire being left unattended."

On April 11, the affidavit says Campney contacted the Bent County Dispatch Center to ask if he could start a fire and burn the Las Animas Limb Pile, owned and operated by the City of Las Animas. Due to the area being under a Red Flag Warning, he was told he could not burn the Limb Pile.

However, investigators were informed by the Las Animas Fire Department that crews had responded to a fire at the Limb Pile earlier on April 12 at 11 a.m. for a fire that was out of control.

After getting the fire under control, the affidavit says the fire department instructed Champney to cover the burning debris in the Limb Pile with dirt and to extinguish the fire.

According to the affidavit, fire crews responded for a second time to a fire that was out of control again at the Limb Pile at 1:30 p.m.

According to the affidavit, the Fort Lyon Fire forced the Fort Lyon facility to be evacuated of 200+ residents and staff, including a large number of residents with medical conditions which complicated the evacuation. The affidavit says some of the residents were "fearful for their health."

The affidavit reveals that despite the destruction of the fire and there still being active flames, Champney went back to the Limb Pile and began burning a large pile of debris on April 13.

In the affidavit, an investigator says he asked Champney on April 13 to put out the fire and cease burning until the investigation was complete. According to the affidavit, Champney got upset and said he would put it out "when he was done."

The affidavit says Champney was told again to stop until further notice. However, the investigator says he watched Champney from his patrol vehicle continue to burn the pile. Champney did eventually use the bucket-loader to haul loads of sand to the burning debris pile and cover up the remaining fire.

According to the affidavit, an investigation into the Fort Lyon Fire found there was no indication of fraud, malicious intent, or thrill-seeking. However, it was determined the 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."

In total, two homes were destroyed and the fire reached just under 3,000 acres.

Bent County, the State, and the Bureau of Land Management had arson investigators involved in the investigation since the Fort Lyon Fire erupted back in mid-April.

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Dan Beedie

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

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Spencer Soicher

Spencer is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about him here.

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