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Fire investigators looking for clues in 2 Weld County wildfires

1:03 PM, Sep 26, 2010   |    comments
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Early Saturday morning, three separate fires began west of Greeley near the intersection of 83rd Avenue and Business Highway 34.

Investigators are looking at those fires as "suspicious," according to Union Colony Fire and Rescue Authority Operations Chief Jeff Odell.

"Natural processes - wind and travel even fire brands can't explain three separate fires at the same time," said Odell.

But, an arsonist might explain it.

Saturday morning's fire nearly destroyed the home and farm of the Hilzer family.

"He looked out his back window and there's what he described as a 20 foot wall of flames right up to his property, right up to where his horses were penned," said Odell. "There was no question that it was going to catch his structures on fire."

Lois Hilzer thought for a brief time all was lost.

"At first, we were probably in fairly serious condition," said Hilzer. "It may destroy the house, barns, and so forth."

That's when the Union Colony fire fighters made a choice.

"They only have limited resources for the first five minutes and they have to make a real quick decision about. [Do] we have to ignore something in order to save this?'" said Odell.

They temporarily ignored the other two fires burning on 83rd Avenue and put all their efforts into saving the farm, which they did.

"I'm thankful," said Hilzer.

Odell said they have no evidence to link the fires near Greeley with the one near Kersey about a 15 miles apart.

Fire investigators near Kersey, where a 1,000 acre fire burned three outbuildings and a home Thursday, believe that fire may have been intentionally set, as well.

Both share similar characteristics; one large fire area at both scenes and three separate points of origin.

"Some of their staff came out and the investigators talked," said Platte Valley Fire Chief Barry Schaefer.

Fire officials say a witness reported three origin points when the fire broke out near Kersey on Thursday.

The fire, combined with high winds, burned through fields extremely quickly, torching three outbuildings and a home.

"They're going to be going blade by blade if they have to, over all the grass, looking for that specific cause," said Schaefer.

Fire investigators from the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Bureau of Investigations will remain on both scenes Saturday to examine more evidence. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is helping also.

The Union Colony Fire Authority has banned all burn permits in and around Greeley, for now.

Hilzer says she's glad that Saturday's fire did not have the same outcome as the one on Thursday.

"It could've totally taken this line of homes had the wind blown just right and we didn't get the fast response," said Hilzer. "It could've been very serious."

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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