FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – A man now on trial claims he took precautions before starting a fire that quickly raced out of control.

The Crystal Fire last spring burned west of Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins. Thirteen homes burned to the ground and more than 3,000 acres were scorched.

Thomas Howie faces a charge of fourth-degree arson. His defense attorney on Tuesday told the jury that the facts are probably not going to be in dispute much. He seemed to be building a case that suggests firefighters thought the fire was almost out and the wind that came up later and caused the bulk of the damage.

Howie was clearing brush on property partly owned by his father. He poured gasoline on the slash pile that was sitting on dry grass.

A firefighter on Tuesday testified he thought the threat from the fire was nearly gone before any of the homes had burned. Then winds in excess of 60 miles per hour fueled the fire.

Howie claims he’s not guilty and that he took precautions before he set the fire.

Along with the felony arson charge, Howie also faces a civil lawsuit from property owners who were victims of the fire.

Two women who were watching the proceedings told CBS4 they were victims of the fire. One said she lost her home but didn’t want to talk this early in the case. The other said she couldn’t talk because she’s involved in the civil suit against Howie.


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