Warrant Issued For Suspect in Colo. Wildland Fire

FORT COLLINS, Colo. --

A felony arson arrest warrant was issued Wednesday for a man who admitted starting the Crystal Fire in Larimer County.

Investigators were working with Thomas Howie's attorney to arrange his surrender, said Larimer County sheriff's spokesman John Schulz. The warrant required a $10,000 bond.

The 36-year-old Howie was burning slash April 1 when the winds picked up and the fire spread out of control, Schulz said. Howie left the property but did not report the fire, which burned 3,000 acres and destroyed 13 homes.

One of the homes that burned to the ground belonged to John Hanson.

When Hanson learned that Howie failed to call the fire department, he wasn’t happy.

“That’s a little upsetting,” Hanson said. “He was probably afraid. That’s not a good thing.”

“He should have reported it,” said Harold Braden, one of dozens of homeowners who were ordered to leave their homes at the height of the blaze.

Braden still has vivid memories of that night.

“They woke us up around 12:30,” Braden said. “They came banging on the door. We got dressed, came out and got ready to leave and... it looked like hell back there.”

Braden said the flames were crowning in the trees on the ridge about 1,000 feet from his home.

He was one of the lucky ones. His house was spared.

While Howie’s failure to report the fire surprised many people, it doesn’t surprise everyone.

“In some respects, it’s understandable that he didn’t report it right away because he probably freaked out about what he did,” said Andy Kromarek, who was visiting friends in the Crystal Mountain area. “But he’s got to be held responsible.”

Braden told 7NEWS that Howie isn’t the only one who has exercised questionable judgment in that neighborhood.

He said another neighbor had a bonfire going on a night when the wind was blowing.

“It’s a miracle there wasn’t an inferno,” he said.

The total cost of fighting the Crystal Fire is estimated at $3 million.

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