Full Investigation Of Estes Park Fire Begins
Inclement Weather will not deter ATF’s National Response Team
A full investigative team from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has arrived in Estes Park and began a joint fire investigation on Wednesday morning during freezing temperatures and snow. ATF was dispatched at the Town’s request to assist the Estes Park Police Department in its probe of Monday’s devastating fire that destroyed the town’s historic Park Theatre Mall.
Mayor Bill Pinkham of Town of Estes Park, Town Administrator Jacquie Halburnt, Chief Wes Kufeld of the Estes Park Police Department (EPPD), Chief Scott Dorman of the Estes Park Volunteer Fire Department (EPVFD), and Special Agent in Charge Richard E. Chase of ATF Denver Field Division jointly announced today that the ATF’s National Response Team has arrived in Estes Park to begin their on-scene origin and cause fire investigation into the October 19 fire that destroyed approximately 24,200 sq. ft. of the Park Theater Mall located on 116 E. Elkhorn Avenue, in the historic downtown area of Estes Park, Colorado.
“We welcome working together with this elite investigative team from across the United States,” said Police Chief Wes Kufeld. Some confusion about the ATF’s mission while here may have occurred early on Monday, he added. Kufeld noted that “The ATF’s role is as a full partner in the investigation as to the fire’s cause, not as a training exercise.” The fire scene officially was turned over to the Estes Park Police Department early Wednesday morning.
The responding NRT component for this particular fire investigation consists of 21 members, including veteran special agents who have post-blast and fire origin-and-cause expertise; forensic chemists; explosives enforcement officers; fire protection engineers; computer forensic specialists, fire modeling specialists, and intelligence specialists. In addition, a cadre of special agents, including Certified Fire Investigators (CFI) from Denver and a Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) accelerant detection K-9 team will be on the scene today assisting with the investigation.
A thorough examination of the scene will be conducted to determine the origin and cause of the fire through interviews with first responders, potential witnesses, and a process of eliminating possible failures of electrical, natural gas, and heating systems in the structure as potential causes of the fire. Any evidence recovered at the scene will be sent to the ATF National Laboratory for examination.
Chase said, “ATF approaches every fire investigation with an open mind and works closely with our state and local partners to find the cause and origin of a fire by combining good old fashioned police work and proven scientific methods.”
The fire was contained to the mall itself, and did not spread to the adjoining buildings. A total of 11 businesses, each housed in the Park Theatre Mall, were damaged in the blaze. There were no injuries.
Elkhorn Avenue, Estes Park’s main street, was open by 10 a.m. Tuesday morning as were other minor arterial streets. Businesses throughout the core downtown area also were open throughout Tuesday and will remain open even as heavy equipment such as a crane and excavator are used to remove debris over the next few days to further the team’s investigative efforts.
This is an ongoing joint investigation between the Town of Estes Park Police and Fire Departments and ATF. The public is asked to call the Estes Park Police at (970) 586-4000 or ATF’s toll free hotline, 1-888-ATF-FIRE (888-283-3473) with any information that may help investigators investigate this fire. The phone lines are answered 24 hours a day and all calls remain confidential.
More information on ATF and its programs is available at www.atf.gov.