The results of the Black Forest Fire investigation are almost ready, according to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, but people who had their property confiscated for the investigation want their belongings back.
Cynthia Balch has been waiting nearly a year for her equipment. She lives on Peregrine Way, close to where investigators believe the fire started. She’s owned her property for 31 years.
Balch gave KRDO Newschannel 13 copies of paperwork from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to confiscate her property. Eight pieces of equipment in her quonset or metal shed was taken as evidence for the fire investigation: three lawn mowers, a skid loader, a tractor, a log splitter, an ATV and a powerwasher.
The items were seized because on three different criteria:
- Any and all equipment which have an internal combustion engine, to include, but not limited to motor vehicles, tractors, lawn mowers, chain saws, log splitters, and skid loaders.
- Any and all combustible fuels or liquids, to include, but not limited to gasoline, fuel oil, motor oil, lighter fluid, kerosene, diesel fuel, or alcohol based fuels.
- Any and all items which suggests, explains or indicates how the “Black Forest” fire might have started.
"I feel like they've treated me like a second class citizen like, that we're guilty. I feel like they stole from me,” said Balch.
Without her equipment, she's taking money out of her own pocket to take care of her home. She’s had to pay to have her driveway plowed in the winter and she’s had to rent tractors. She also has flooding to worry about.
"I'm down at the bottom of the mountain. I still get the water from the fire,” she said.
Balch says she hired a lawyer to try to get her things back and all she has heard is it’s an on-going investigation and we need it in case we need it, she said.
Nick Genoshe does maintenance work on Balch's property. He was nearby the day the fire started.
"Me and Coy drove back around and I called 911. We wanted to tell them about this access gate right here,” said Genoshe.
He says the Sheriff's Office took his laptop and cell phone.
"I just feel like they're holding onto our stuff just in case they find one shred of evidence to somehow, someway pin it on somebody because they don't know and they're looking for a scapegoat, I think and unfortunately we're that scapegoat,” he said.
The Sheriff's Office said during open investigations, it usually has to hold onto evidence like Balch's equipment. Before we can see the results of the Black Forest fire investigation, the Sheriff's Office says the District Attorney's Office will review it first.