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Sunshine Fire in Boulder County likely caused by campfire at transient camp, sheriff's office says

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Posted at 2:27 PM, Mar 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-22 00:15:33-04

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. – The Sunshine Fire that burned 74 acres in Sunshine Canyon after it started Sunday morning was likely caused by a campfire at a transient camp, authorities said Tuesday.

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office says the fire is estimated to have cost $725,000 already. It said the campfire suspected as the fire’s origin was west of the Centennial Trailhead on Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks property.

It said that the campfire was in between some large rocks that “appeared to have been placed into a hastily fashioned, ad hoc campfire ring of sorts.” A news release from the sheriff’s office says that fire investigators found moisture near the fire’s origin point and discovered that dirt had been kicked on top of the original campfire in a likely attempt to try to put it out.

But the fire flared quickly early Sunday, waking nearby residents who were forced to evacuate. It spread to 74 acres by Monday evening, when authorities said it was 100 percent contained. Mop-up efforts continued at the site Tuesday, however.

"Based on circumstances around the area, things we know, we suspect that it’s a transient camp or was a transient campsite at one point," said Cmdr. Mike Wagner, a spokesman for the Boulder County Sheriff's Office.

It's an all too familiar story for people in Boulder County.

Last July, hundreds of acres burned in the Cold Springs Fire, which was also started by people camping illegally.

"There’s a campsite right down the road here. There are several around — I see people up in the morning that are smoking up there," said Fred Moore, who was evacuated during the Sunshine Fire and wants to see the issue of homeless camping address before it's too late. "It’s a growing concern. We’re all very concerned about this area right now."

Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for the City of Boulder, said that park rangers have long been aware of the camping issue, issuing 291 illegal camping summons and 40 illegal campfire summons between 2014 and 2016.

“A situation like this can imperil homes, business and others in the nearby vicinity,” Huntley said. 

She said Boulder is also planning to hire four seasonal rangers to assist with direct code enforcement.

But the City is also asking for help from the public in reporting illegal campfires.

There is also a Homeless Working Group that will make recommendations about strategies to deal with the issues on May 16.

Meanwhile, the sheriff's office said it will increase patrols near the fire area.

The sheriff’s office says no suspects have been identified as having caused the fire so far, but that investigation is ongoing. It is asking anyone with information about the fire and its origins to contact Boulder County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jason Shatek at 303-441-3641 or Northern Colorado Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Camping within Boulder’s open spaces is prohibited, as are campfires. The county is also currently under Level-I fire restrictions.

No structures or homes were damaged in the fire, nor were any injuries reported.

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