Firefighters called to trash fire at Twelve Tribes compound days before Marshall fire, but burn deemed legal

Firefighters responded to a trash fire at the property that has been a focus of the Marshall fire investigation six days before the fast-moving wildfire blazed a swath of destruction across Boulder County, according to a fire department report obtained by The Denver Post.

At 11:53 a.m. on Dec. 24, a concerned passerby alerted authorities to a fire at 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive, a compound occupied by members of the Twelve Tribes religious sect. A Mountain View Fire Rescue crew investigated the fire that day and left without extinguishing it because it was not illegal, the report shows.

The passerby told authorities she saw a large, unattended fire on the property, and was concerned because of dry and windy conditions that day, she said, speaking with The Post on the condition of anonymity because the sheriff’s office instructed her not to speak to reporters.

The Twelve Tribes compound is now under investigation as authorities try to pinpoint where the Dec. 30 wildfire began. Investigators have fenced off the property and were serving a search warrant on the compound, where a witness’ video on the day of the fire showed a shed burning.

Investigators have not pinpointed the cause or start of the blaze and it is unclear if the Marshall fire began on the Twelve Tribes compound. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said the wildfire started somewhere in that neighborhood, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

After the passerby’s call on Christmas Eve, firefighters from Mountain View Fire Rescue arrived at the Twelve Tribes compound to discover a man burning trash in a dirt field, according to a fire department report.

“He stated that he would be burning railroad ties for the next few hours,” the report reads. “He also had a front-end loader and a water source established for control measures.”

The area was not under a burn ban or any wind warnings that day, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder. The Twelve Tribes property sits off the east side of Colorado 93, just beyond the boundaries of a Boulder County fire ban, which covered the western half of the county and ended on the west side of Colorado 93 — just across the road from the Twelve Tribes property.

On Dec. 24, firefighters checked out the trash fire and then left without extinguishing it, the report shows.

Just under a week later, the woman who called authorities about the trash fire watched the beginnings of the Marshall fire, she told The Post.

“When I saw the fire, I realized what I was looking at was the exact location of where I saw the flames a week before,” she said.

The Marshall fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and burned across 6,000 acres in Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County, driven east by hurricane-force winds. One man was killed and a woman remains missing.

Dave Maggio, a five-year neighbor to the Twelve Tribes property, told The Post three days after the Marshall fire that the religious sect’s members burned regularly on the property and that fires had in the past gotten out of control.

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office initially refused to make public any records about its visits to the Twelve Tribes compound in the past, but reversed course on Saturday and released reports that showed deputies had been called to the property seven times since 2014 for issues not related to fires or burning.

The records released by the sheriff’s office did not include the passerby’s call on Christmas Eve about the trash fire. In response to an open records request Monday in which The Post specifically sought records about that call, the sheriff’s office said those records were part of an ongoing investigation and would not be released.

It was unclear whether the sheriff’s office has withheld other documents involving reports of burning on the Twelve Tribes property.

On the day of the Marshall fire, Boulder County was under a high wind warning from the National Weather Service, agency meteorologist Greg Hanson said Tuesday. The area was not under a formal red flag warning, but in Boulder County, burning is prohibited whenever there is a high wind warning.

The National Weather Service did not issue a red flag warning on Dec. 30 because relative humidity did not fall low enough to qualify for that warning, Hanson said. Relative humidity must be at or below 15% for a red flag warning to be issued; on Dec. 30 it was between 20% and 30%, Hanson said.

That humidity requirement might change in the wake of the Marshall fire, Hanson said.

“We are starting to go back and look at that and get in touch with our fire partners and make an allowance for extremely high wind,” he said. “That may be a change we make.”

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