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Manitou Springs residents, officials suspect homeless encampment may have played a role in Incline Fire

Now leaders are calling for action to mitigate the issue
Posted at 8:27 PM, Oct 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 07:53:14-04

MANITOU SPRINGS — While officials have not disclosed exactly how the Incline Fire was sparked, several people, including a Manitou Springs City Council member who had an up-close and personal encounter with the fire, say they strongly believe a homeless encampment played a role. And now, they're taking action.

When the Incline Fire was sparked, nearby resident Steve Bremner was there.

"A friend of mine sent a picture of the smoke coming up," Bremner said. "So then I turned around, looked up and saw the smoke and my next objective was to get up to the fire to see what was going on."

Hiker Nick Caster was there too.

"And then I just hear like a POP! POP! POP! POP! and BOOM! BOOM!" Caster said.

He too decided to run toward it.

"Then when I got down there I saw the fire and I saw it picking up," Caster said.

Both men did something else — they took out their phones to record what they saw.

"It was definitely in a homeless camp," Bremner said. "Because I've been in that homeless camp before and it was huge. There's like four collapsed tents, there were some bikes in there."

"There was a lot of, like, random stuff in the camp. and I saw a propane tank as well," Caster said.

Ron Batzel also lives near the Incline.

He was out of town when the fire started, but he made the hike to the site of the fire Tuesday, also equipped with a camera.

"There's a homeless camp that was burnt," Batzel said. "There's a still a propane tank and a butane tank, and burnt bicycle frames."

So far there's no official word on where or how the fire started. All officials have said is they are looking for an early 40s white male in a hoodie who the El Paso County Sheriff's Office referred to as an "arson suspect."

At a city council work session Tuesday night, Manitou Springs Police Chief Brian Churchill told council members authorities do have a person in they would like to speak with and they do not believe the person had an intent to "burn the forest down" as previously reported by some officials.

"My suspicions are, that it was somebody up there in that homeless camp who accidentally started it," Bremner said. "And it got out of control, and just said, I gotta get out of here."

Now they want answers.

"I definitely think that there should be something done," Caster said. "I'm not gonna say I have the expertise to figure out that."

But someone else does.

"I intend to ask the police chief to come back with a plan for City Council," Bremner said.

Bremner happens to be the Ward 3 city councilman for Manitou Springs.

"I want to geo-tag all the sites," Bremner said. "I want to clean up all the sites. And I want to monitor them."

At Tuesday's city council work session, multiple council members including Bremner shared their concerns over the homeless camps and asked police chief Churchill to come back with a plan to mitigate the problem at next month's meeting.