DENVER – Colorado prosecutors charged a man Thursday with 141 counts of arson, representing dozens of homes and buildings destroyed by a massive wildfire that firefighters are still battling.
Authorities arrested Jesper Joergensen, 52, of Denmark on June 28, a day after he told police he had started a fire to burn trash on land where he was living in a camper. Joergensen then told police that he had been grilling in a permanent fire pit the day before the wildfire started, according to court documents.
Assistant District Attorney Ashley McCuaig said the number of arson charges is based on how many buildings were destroyed. He said additional charges could be filed as authorities are able to survey more land affected by the blaze about 205 miles from Denver.
Authorities estimated Thursday that the fire east of Fort Garland was more than 80 percent contained. The wildfire has burned more than 168 square miles since it began in late June.
Joergensen is being held in jail on a $50,000 bond. His attorney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent told investigators that Joergensen had an expired visa and was living in the country illegally, according to the affidavit filed for his arrest. ICE has requested that Joergensen be turned over to them if he is released from jail.
Judges in the local court district have been disqualified from hearing the case because a district employee was “one of the potential victims of the crime,” according to a court order dated July 3 and released Thursday.
Senior Judge Gregory Lyman, who retired in 2016 from a district in southwestern Colorado, was appointed to oversee the case. Joergensen did not appear in person for Thursday’s court hearing on the charges but listened by phone, according to KRDO-TV.
He is due back in court Aug. 2.