Top stories of 2018 in SLV: #1--Spring Fire, third largest in CO history

Plumes of smoke and fire loom over La Veta as the fire heads eastward. Residents on both sides of La Veta Pass were evacuated, with many returning to find their houses destroyed./Courtesy photo

VALLEY — The Spring Fire, the third largest fire in Colorado history, began on Wednesday, June 27 east of Fort Garland in Costilla County, as a result of a fire started by illegal Danish immigrant Jesper Joergensen, 51, who has been charged with 141 counts of felony arson. Due to drought conditions, Costilla County was under a fire ban at the time.

Joergensen had been cooking some meat over a fire pit at his home in a remote area about four miles east of Fort Garland. Status on his court case is scheduled for January 3.

Growing to 1,200 acres in a matter of hours, the fire burned 108,045 acres and was not listed as 100 percent contained until September 10. Residents were evacuated in Forbes Park, Sangre de Cristo Ranches and Wagon Creek, and a Red Cross shelter was set up at the Blanca-Fort Garland Community Center. Evacuations subsequently occurred on the east side of La Veta Pass as the fire moved eastward.

More than 200 houses were lost in Costilla and Huerfano Counties, 141 in Costilla County according to Costilla County Assessor Ronda Lobato and 68 in Huerfano County according to public information officials.

In addition to numerous county roads, Highway 160 was closed for more than a week as firefighters worked to contain the blaze. Firefighters from the San Luis Valley were joined by state crews and hundreds of firefighters from outside the area as well as the National Guard.

Costilla County commissioners declared a disaster, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized federal funds for the firefighting efforts. Governor John Hickenlooper and other state and national elected officials visited the site on July 6.

No lives were lost during the fire.