Firefighter Charged For Torching Tiny Colorado Church

LARAMIE -- A volunteer fireman was charged Wednesday with arson in connection with four recent fires in Northern Colorado, including the Nov. 16 blaze that consumed the historic Virginia Dale Presbyterian Church near the Wyoming border.

Austin G. Mayo, a volunteer with the Livermore Fire Department, was arrested Nov. 26 and is held under $500,000 bond at the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins. He will appear in court for arraignment on Friday.

Linda Jensen, executive assistant for the 8th Judicial District Attorney's office, said Mayo faces two charges of first degree arson, one for the church fire and one for a fire Nov. 18 at the Livermore Community Hall.

First degree arson is a class three felony under Colorado law, carrying a possible penalty of four to 12 years in prison.

Jensen said Mayo is also charged with second degree arson, a class four felony with a penalty of two to four years, for a haystack fire on the property of George Seidel of LaPorte on Nov. 10. The fourth charge against him, involving a grass fire on property a quarter of a mile west of U.S. 287, is a misdemeanor punishable by two to 12 months in jail.

Seidel said he was on the East Coast when the haystack burned, but "I heard it looked quite spectacular."

"I was not happy to lose 165 tons of hay, but the church is a more serious problem," he said.

The little white church was just west of U.S. 287 near Virginia Dale, five miles south of the Wyoming border. It was built in 1879 and was a familiar sight to motorists traveling between Laramie and Fort Collins. On the Sunday morning that it burned, passersby reported it in flames at 12:30 a.m.

In recent years, services had been held at the church on the second Sunday of each month. It had also been used for occasional weddings.

The Rev. Richard L. Groh, pastor of the LaPorte Presbyterian Church, who also served the Virginia Dale Church, could not be reached Wednesday, but has said that the congregation intends to rebuild the church.

Mayo reportedly completed basic firefighter training in the spring of 2002 and was listed on the Wildland Firefighter Roster of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Services.