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EPC Sheriff's Office updates Black Forest Fire investigation

Point of origin located; cause more likely accidental, less likely arson

New Details in Black Forest Fire Probe

BLACK FOREST, Colo. - El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said investigators have narrowed down a point of origin for the Black Forest Fire, but still aren't certain what caused it.

In a news release Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office said the point of origin is in a wooded area, but didn't reveal the specific location.   Authorities earlier said they believe the fire started in an area near Darr Circle.

According to the release, investigators have gathered evidence and information and are making progress in the investigation, but no specific evidence or information was mentioned.  The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is analyzing evidence in the case.

The cause of the fire still hasn't determined.  However, Maketa said based on the evidence gathered so far, the cause appears less likely to be arson and more likely to be accidental.  Natural causes, such as lightning, were ruled out by authorities last week.

"We don't see any obvious signs of an accelerant that you would commonly see with an arsonist who has intentionally set the fire," said Maketa.

Earlier, authorities said the fire was human-caused, but didn't know if it was set on purpose, or accidentally.  They'll now focus on a variety of accidental or intentional causes, such as sparks from machines or hot parts on motors and exhaust systems.

Investigators' search Tuesday of a vacant home on Falcon Drive near the fire's starting point led many neighbors to believe a direct connection to the fire had been found.  The house wasn't burned and is under renovation by the owners.

Howard Tilton saw part of the search from his home across the road.

"And a few more cars came in, and they were basically looking at the roof and the chimney and stuff like that, from what we could see," he said.

But Maketa said neighbors shouldn't jump to the wrong conclusions.  He said the house was one of several near the fire's origin that were searched as a routine part of the investigation.

"There tends to be an overreaction to everything we do as it relates to the fire," he said.  "In many cases, it doesn't mean we have zeroed in on a particular house or owner -- only that we're going through that due diligence process when we have very little to work on, to exclude it as a possibility."

Maketa said he understands that fire victims want to know what caused the fire as soon as possible, and who may be responsible for it.  But he said he doesn't want anyone to jeopardize the case.

"That's what I'm in most in fear of now, is people jumping to conclusions, Maketa said.  "We may not get the cooperation we need.  There may be no criminal intent, and that could leave us in the dark on this."

Maketa said people should prepare for the possibility that the official cause of the fire -- like the Waldo Canyon Fire a year ago-- may never be known.

Anyone with information about the cause of the fire is encouraged to call the tip line at 719-444-8393 or email blackforestfiretipline@elpasoco.com.

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