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Photo taken near Ft Lyon.
Beverly Hayden

Las Animas Code Enforcement Officer Charged with 3 Felony Counts in the Fort Lyon River Fire


By Rain Lucero and Anne Boswell with Colorado News YOUR Way (Original Reporting)

May 18, 2022

A Bent County man turned himself into the Bent County Sheriff’s Office Monday May 16 as he has been accused of starting the Fort Lyon River Fire in April of this year. The arrest affidavit shows that Charles Champney, the Code Enforcement Officer for Las Animas, faces three felony arson charges as well as other charges, concerning the Fort Lyon River Fire.

Two of the charges relate to the property damages that stemmed from the fire in the range of $100 thousand to $1 million dollars.

The charges are:

  • Charges Arson 1 5/16/2022—Status Arrest Only Charge Statute 18-4-102(1) Class F3 (Class 3 Felony) Offense Date From 04/12/2022
  • Charges Arson 2-damage $100k-$1m Reads 18-4-103 Status Arrest Only Charge Statute 18-4-103(1),(2)(g) Class F3 (Class 3 Felony) Offense Date From 04/12/2022
  • Charges Arson 4-property $100k-$1m Endangered Reads 18-4-105(2) Status Arrest Only Charge Statute 18-4-105(1),(3)(g) Class F3 (Class 3 Felony) Offense Date From 04/12/2022
  • Charges Firing Woods/prairie-set Fire Reads 18-13-109 Status Arrest Only Charge Statute 18-13-109(1) Class PO (Unclassified Petty Offense) Offense Date From 04/12/2022
  • Charges Reckless Endangerment Status Arrest Only Charge Statute 18-3-208 Class M2 (Class 2 Misdemeanor) Offense Date From 04/12/2022

The arrest warrant states that 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.”

According to the affidavit, on April 11 Campney inquired with the Bent County Dispatch Center to ask if he could burn the Las Animas limb pile. With a Red Flag Warning in affect, he was told that he may not burn the limb pile.

Nevertheless, Las Animas Fire Department responded to a fire at the Las Animas limb pile at 11 a.m. on April 12 for a fire that was reported to be out of control.

Thereupon getting the fire under control, the fire department instructed Champney to cover the remaining burning debris with dirt to extinguish the fire.

At 1:30 p.m. fire crews responded for the second time to the aforementioned location after reports that the fire there was again out of control. The wind was full tilt and the Earth in the path of the fire’s destruction suffers from the drought conditions; it was a recipe for disaster.

Regardless of the efforts of the many agencies that responded, the fire grew rapidly out of control, so the Fort Lyon Fire Department insisted that the nearby Fort Lyon facility needed to evacuate their more than 200 residents. Some residents were, “fearful for their health” stated the affidavit. Many residents at the facility have health complications which added to the bedlam as they were instructed to evacuate.

The affidavit implies that on April 13, regardless of the destruction, and active flames still burning, Champney once again took to the limb pile and began to burn a large pile of debris. An investigator says that he confronted Champney and asked that he extinguish the fire until the investigation was over. Champney became upset and stated that he would put it out “when he was done.”

Campney was told again to cease burning until further notice, however from his patrol vehicle the investigator witnessed him continue to burn the pile and eventually use a bucket-loader to dump sand on to the burning pile, finally extinguishing the fire.

According to the affidavit, the investigation into the Fort Lyon Fire revealed no indication of fraud, malicious intent, or thrill-seeking. Though however, the fire was a result of the “careless and unattended burning of limbs and debris on a high-wind, Red Flag Day at the Las Animas limb pile.”

Bent County, the State of Colorado, and the Bureau of Land Management sent in arson investigators to get to the bottom of the cause of what is now known as the Fort Lyon River Fire. In total, two homes were declared a total loss and the fire burned nearly 3,000 acres.

Reports on the evening of Monday May 16 state that Champney is now out on bond and is due in court June 6th for a bond return date.

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