A 46-acre fire last year near the Highlands Ranch Law Enforcement Training Facility that prompted a pre-evacuation notice for 3,300 homes was sparked by an Englewood police officer at a shooting range, according to a letter from the Douglas County sheriff.
The estimated cost of putting out the fire was more than $14,800, split between Douglas County and Littleton Fire Rescue, the letter said. The sheriff requested the Englewood Police Department reimburse the training facility for about $1,900.
“Investigation into the fire showed it was accidentally started by an officer from Englewood PD, as a group of EPD officers were firing old less-lethal 40mm munitions on Range 5, one of which was an incendiary round,” the letter to Englewood Police Chief John Collins said.
The brush fire sent up smoke on the training foundation's property in Douglas County, south of Highlands Ranch, the afternoon of Sept. 15, 2017. The pre-evacuation notice for homes in southern Highlands Ranch was canceled that night as crews, aided by a helicopter making water drops, began to get a handle on the blaze. Firefighters reached 100 percent containment of the fire the next afternoon. No injuries or damage to structures were reported.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office confirmed at the time that the fire started near the shooting range at the facility at 6001 Ron King Trail. The sheriff's letter, dated Jan. 12, said the Range 5 fire started while Englewood police were using the range without a required, scheduled reservation.
Requesting payment from Englewood police was “the fair thing to do,” Collins said, but he said the reservation issue was not the problem. Denver 7 News reported Sept. 11 that Sheriff Tony Spurlock said fire-suppression equipment would typically have been deployed ahead of time had a reservation been made.
That wasn't common knowledge, according to Collins.
“In all of our years — and we have asked department members here as well as from other agencies — no one was ever aware until this week of any fire-suppression equipment the range may have,” Collins said Sept. 12.
Collins also said it's typical for agencies to use the facility without making reservations. Englewood's SWAT team had a reservation but had to cancel it, so they came on another day and tried to call the person in charge of the range but didn't get an answer, Collins said.
“Over the course of the last 30 to 40 years, the practice was, you call … and if (the supervisor isn't there), it was understood that you would try, and then use that range anyway,” Collins said, adding, “If we reserve a range for 9 a.m. and Denver (police) show up at 10 a.m., and we're not there, Denver's going to take it.”
Disciplining officers would have been warranted if the fire started due to negligence, but it was accidental, Collins said.
“You learn from accidents, and that's what we did here,” Collins said.
The cost of $1,900 covered the training foundation's reimbursement to Douglas County of the county's expenses for food for firefighters and the county's Incident Management Team, as well as overtime for South Metro Fire Rescue's assistance.
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