Las Animas code enforcer arrested for starting a fire that destroyed homes

Bent County officials have made an arrest in connection with the 3,000-acre Fort Lyon River fire, which sparked in April.

Charles Champney, a 67-year-old Las Animas code enforcement officer, faces several charges including reckless endangerment and first-degree arson. According to an arrest affidavit, he is accused of burning a pile of debris at the city-owned Las Animas Limb Pile despite being told not to by dispatch officers due to high fire danger.

The day after the fire started, a Bent County officer found Champney still burning debris and ordered him to stop, which he disobeyed, according to the affidavit. Later that week, investigators concluded the fire originated from the limb pile. 

The fire caused evacuation orders, destroyed two homes and caused up to a million dollars in damages.

A CPR News Investigation found that state authorities know the exact cause of just under half of large, human-started wildfires

Champney’s arrest is the latest instance of government employees sparking wildfires in Colorado. Last week, the Alturas fire near Colorado Springs was found to have been caused by a sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle. And in early May, controlled burning by the U.S. Forest Service near Keystone Resort spread outside the planned area.