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Animal Sanctuary owner sues four Adams County deputies, neighbors over shooting range fire

Investigators say fire was accidental
Posted at 7:30 PM, Mar 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-24 14:13:02-04

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HUDSON, Colo. -- The founder of Creative Acres animal sanctuary has filed suit against four current or former Adams County Sheriff deputies, alleging they started a fire that spread to her property in March of 2018.

Maxine Mager told Contact7 the fire didn't cause immediate death to any of her animals, but that more than 20 died later from complications related to smoke inhalation.

She says she, too, suffered smoke inhalation.

"I actually had to go to the hospital within a week after that," she said, adding that she saw a doctor several times until November of 2018.

Fire investigators say the blaze began near a gun range backstop which was located about 500 yards from the shooting bench, and "may have been the result of a bullet striking the steel plate that was being utilized as a backstop."

The investigator did not name anyone as being responsible, but said the fire "has been determined to have been accidental."

He also noted high wind conditions, 20 mile per hour sustained winds, and dry vegetation 6 inches to 12 inches in height, as a contributing factor in the blaze.

Mager says that's why she wants the deputies and the property owners to be held responsible.

"Anybody with common sense would know that you don't shoot in a field with the winds high," she said.

Contact7 reached out to James Hazlet, one of the property owners, leaving a business card at his home, and a message with family members. His cell phone mail box was full. We have yet to hear back.

Contact7 also reached out to the Adams County Sheriff.

A spokesman said they conducted an internal investigation and that no criminal charges were filed, either by the Sheriff's Office or the Brighton Fire Rescue District.

Sgt. Paul Gregory said there was no internal discipline. He would not say whether the deputies were responsible for the fire.

Claim for Relief

Mager says some of her fences were damaged when other neighbors used tractors or heavy equipment to cut breaks in the grass.

She says she hasn't been able to replace them because she needs all the money she has to take care of the animals in her sanctuary and is asking for donations. You can access the Creative Acres Website here.

Mager also claims the blaze affected her emotionally.

"If I see smoke," she said, "I freak out."

"What's really sad is that this was done by gunfire and the people are still shooting guns," she added.

Shooting-related wildfires

This isn't the first time that a wildfire has been started by people target practicing at an outdoor range.

It's happened several times in the Pawnee National Grasslands. It's also happened in Douglas County.

In 2017, there was a fire that threatened the homes of thousands of people in Highlands Ranch that was started accidentally by Englewood police officers who were using a nearby shooting range, without a reservation and against the range’s rules.