A Fort Lewis College assistant professor suspected of arson will not be allowed to return to the scene of the alleged crime at south City Market nor his place of employment at Fort Lewis College while his case heads through the court process.
Bradley Todd Clark, 47, appeared in court Tuesday afternoon, represented by Durango attorney Katie Whitney.
Clark appeared in street clothes, out on $25,000 bail. Part of the condition of his release is that he is not allowed to return to south City Market, 6 Town Plaza, where police say he tried to start a fire Saturday night.
Outside the courthouse, Clark and his attorney declined to comment. Clark also did not return a call seeking comment Monday. His next court date is Oct. 17.
According to an arrest affidavit, Durango police were dispatched to a report of a fire at south City Market around 8:30 p.m. Saturday. By the time officers arrived, crews with Durango Fire Protection District had already determined the blaze was set intentionally.
Fire investigators determined the blaze started in aisle 7, where it appeared someone set a bag of tortilla chips on fire.
Karola Hanks, fire marshal with Durango Fire Protection District, told police she did not believe accelerants were involved in the fire, according to the arrest affidavit.
“Hanks reported that the fire was most likely started with a lighter of some sort,” the arrest affidavit said.
Hanks told police potato chip fires have been reported across the country as people become aware of how flammable they are. She told The Durango Herald chips are flammable because of the vegetable oil used. She said the brand set on fire was Mission tortilla chips, which are packaged in a paper bag.
Durango police pulled video surveillance of the incident, which allowed investigators to identify a male suspect, the arrest affidavit said.
Video shows the suspect stayed in the approximate location of the fire for roughly 46 seconds before leaving. About 34 seconds after the suspect left the area of the fire, a witness observed several bags of chips burning.
“No other persons appear to be in this same area of the burning chips at the time the chips seem to ignite,” police wrote.
The suspect left aisle 7 and headed directly for self-checkout where he began to purchase multiple items. Investigators were able to determine Clark’s identity using his debit card and City Market value card information.
“Clark remains in the store completing his transaction/purchase while the fire continues to burn and the fire sprinklers become activated, all the while multitudes of customers are evacuating the store,” police wrote. “It appeared there were 50+ persons in the store at the time of the fire.”
City Market was closed until about 2 p.m. Sunday. Durango police Cmdr. Ray Shupe said grocery store representatives had not provided a damage estimate as of earlier this week. The fire was small and lasted only a few minutes, but the sprinklers are thought to have caused a good amount of damage.
Police obtained a search warrant for Clark’s home in Durango. Around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, police went to the home while Clark and his wife and two children were present and seized multiple items.
Clark told police he was aware of the fire and was at City Market at the time. He was arrested but declined to be interviewed by police and was taken to the La Plata County Jail. He was arrested on suspicion of first-degree arson, a Class 3 felony.
Police said Tuesday they are seeking assistance in identifying possible witnesses to the fire. The agency distributed videos of the possible witnesses on its Facebook page. Anyone able to identify the individuals is asked to call Detective Josh Newman at 375-4730.
Clark is an associate professor in the political science department. He joined FLC in 2006. Lauren Savage, a spokeswoman for the college, said Clark has been placed on administrative leave and is not permitted to return to campus without escort by authorities.
Clark was arrested for arson in 2007 for allegedly starting a dumpster fire, according to police. Court records show, however, the case was dismissed. Shupe did not have further information about the incident, and said investigators are looking into why it was dismissed.