Authorities are treating Colorado's Black Forest wildfire as the site of a criminal probe. At issue: the start of the fire and the deaths of two people as they were apparently trying to evacuate their house.Enlarge
After two deaths and at least 500 lost homes, local officials are calling Colorado?s Black Forest wildfire not just the most destructive fire in state history, but also the site of a criminal investigation.?Skip to next paragraph
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The return of residents to their homes is being tightly controlled as a result, The Denver Post reports, to preserve as much evidence as possible.
"This is a crime scene until proven otherwise," El Pasco County Sheriff Terry Maketa said at a press conference Monday. "I won't compromise that by letting people in too soon."
Mr. Maketa clarified that he did not know if any crimes were committed, but authorities would treat it as if it were a crime scene until they could make a conclusive determination. Local authorities suspect the fire has a human cause, media reports say.
Five hundred two homes have been lost in the 22-square-mile fire near Colorado Springs, which is 75 percent contained, according to the Associated Press, which cited sheriff's officials Monday. While evacuations reached a peak of nearly 40,000 over the weekend, the mandatory evacuation area dropped to include 4,100 people Monday, CNN reports.
Authorities are investigating two issues, according to media reports: the start of the fire and the deaths of two people as they were apparently trying to evacuate their house. Their deaths have been classified as homicides, according to The Denver Post, until further information is known.
Maketa told the Los Angeles Times that the possible homicides were the reason he had called the site a criminal investigation.?
Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been called in, along with state authorities, CNN says.
As to the cause of the fire, investigators are zeroing in on the fire?s ?point of origin,? according to Maketa. Ideally, once that origin is discovered, clues about the fire's start, such as matches or a cigarette butt, can be found, says Rich Harvey, Black Forest fire incident commander.?