San Luis Valley wildfire destroys more than 100 homes

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A man accused of starting a Colorado wildfire that has destroyed more than 100 homes acknowledged building a fire on land where he has been living but said he made sure it was out, according to a court document.

Jesper Joergensen, 52, initially said he had started a fire to burn trash on land where he has been living in a camper but then said he had been grilling in a permanent fire pit the day before the wildfire started, the document states.

San Luis Valley Emergency tweeted Monday night that 104 homes have been destroyed so far by the wildfire east of Fort Garland. The blaze has burned 89 square miles and forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes since last Wednesday.

Joergensen, who reported the wildfire about 205 miles southwest of Denver, said he woke up Wednesday from a nap, smelled smoke and saw a fire burning in sage brush about 20 feet away from the fire pit. He said he tried to put it out but caught a blanket on fire and burned himself.

The document also said three people were initially listed as being unaccounted for after the fire broke out but it’s not clear if those people were later found.

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad said the fire destroyed its outdoor concert stage and it is raising money to rebuild it.

The Costilla County Sheriff’s Office did not return a telephone call seeking clarification.

Joergensen, who is from Denmark, is being held in jail and is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday. It’s not clear if he has a lawyer representing him. A call to the public defender for the area was not returned.

According to the arrest affidavit, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent told investigators Joergensen had an expired visa and was living in the country illegally.

ICE has requested that Joergensen be turned over to them should he be released from jail.

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