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Fire consumes homeless camp along river

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By John Carr

BRIGHTON — Authorities estimate as many as a dozen homeless men were burned out of their campground Friday afternoon, July 11, following a large fire near Veterans Park in Brighton.

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When firefighters arrived they were confronted by a large fire burning in the river bottom adjacent to the South Platte River. Reports from bystanders and police were that a number of homeless people were living in the wooded area. Access to the fire was extremely limited due to its location along the river, as well as no access roads.

With temperatures approaching the mid 90s and an erratic wind blowing along the river, the fire began to spread in all directions. As fire entered areas of fallen timber, flames were visible in excess of 40 feet in the air.

Within minutes of firefighters trying to control the flames a series of explosions were heard from inside the fire area. Due to the potential physical harm to crews, all firefighters were pulled from the area as a precaution. With a possibility of shots being fired, a call for assistance was placed to various local law enforcement agencies to assist Brighton police, including Adams and Weld County sheriffs, Colorado State Patrol, and Lochbuie and Fort Lupton police. Bridge Street was closed down for more than an hour.

As firefighters worked to contain the spreading fire, a homeless man came forward and admitted to police that he had accidentally started the fire near his campsite. Despite his attempts to put it out, he was unable to extinguish the fire and the flames spread rapidly among the other tents and shelters.

Further interviews with the suspect and another homeless man led police to believe that there were not shots fired, and assisting police agencies stood down. Bridge Street remained closed for several more hours due to the proximity of the fire to the highway as well as fire equipment staged along the road.

Brighton firefighters were able to expand efforts at extinguishing the flames by burning off areas to establish a fire safe perimeter. At one point, all of Brighton’s on-duty crews were engaged in fighting the flames, and fire stations from Thornton and South Adams County fire departments were placed on standby. In addition to Brighton Fire Rescue, an engine from the State of Colorado was also used to remove dangerous trees using chainsaws. The Platte Valley Ambulance Service was on scene in case there were any injuries and to help protect firefighters from high temperatures and dehydration.

There were no injuries to civilians or fire crews. While the cause is still under investigation, at least one person has admitted responsibility in the fire’s start.