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CAL FIRE veteran weighs in on processes behind wildfire investigations

CAL FIRE veteran weighs in on processes behind wildfire investigations
Posted at 9:46 PM, Jan 03, 2022

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — It's the question every Coloradan wants answered: What ignited the Marshall Fire?

On Monday, investigators prepared the public for what could be a long haul in getting answers.

"We haven’t eliminated or honed in on one specific thing. It’s an open investigation," Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said in a press briefing on Monday.

Pelle said it could take weeks or even months to determine the origin of the state's most destructive blaze on record.

Though the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said they couldn't speak to the ongoing investigation happening in Boulder County, the agency provided context and insight on fires of similar size and scope they've investigated.

"It’s similar to any other type of criminal investigation. Once you have evidence and things collected, you may need to send those things to a lab or send them to experts to help diagnose or test certain evidence to help you solidify your hypothesis of what was the cause," said Gianni Muschetto, chief of law enforcement for CAL FIRE.

The results from those tests or expert examinations can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to at least a year to be returned, according to Muschetto.

"Sometimes the fires start in remote areas where there is not a lot of witnesses, so trying to track down information to really help you narrow down where the fire started and who may be responsible takes a lot of times as well," he said.

The penalties under California law can be severe if someone intentionally started a fire, though fires started by negligence usually lead to misdemeanor charges, Muschetto said.

"Those can hold state prison penalties for multiple years depending on the size of the fire, the amount of damage and obviously if lives are lost, that can turn into manslaughter or murder charges as well," he said.

Who or what caused the Marshall Fire has yet to be uncovered as detectives remain tight lipped about the ongoing investigation.

Near the intersection where the Marshall Fire is believed to have started sits a religious compound called The Twelve Tribes. Some witnesses reported seeing a barn burning on the compound's property the day of the fire.

In a phone call with a member of The Twelve Tribes, the member would only say they were letting the Boulder County Sheriff's Office handle the investigation.