The 117 Fire, which burned nearly 43,000 acres last week in the Hanover area along the El Paso / Pueblo County line, was likely caused by a vehicle dragging a muffler as it drove northbound along I-25, throwing off sparks which ignited grass along the shoulder. El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder says that information came from a witness who observed both the Ford Explorer that was dragging the muffler and the very beginning stages of the fire. "The timing of when that fire started and where the fire was, accompanied by the amount of sparks that he saw from this vehicle, are pretty unique," Elder told News 5 on Wednesday. "We believe that is a likely cause of the fire. We don’t know that definitively at this point, but we don’t have anything else that it would point to."
The El Paso County Assessor’s Office has completed its report on damaged and destroyed homes and other structures. The total number of homes destroyed in the 117 Fire is 17, a downward revision from the original estimate of 23. That includes nine residential mobile homes and eight single family residences. 19 other structures were destroyed, including barns and sheds. The total market value of the damaged or destroyed property is $1,309,844, according to the assessor’s report.
Elder says charging the driver who caused the fire with a crime would be difficult. "We would have to show that he knew that the vehicle was causing that kind of damage," Elder said. "It would be a tough nut to crack."