ELBERT, Colo. (CBS4) – There’s anger and sadness for a volunteer fire department as one of their own is accused of starting a wildfire last summer.

The wildfire took 18 days to fight, burned several hundred acres, and forced an entire town to evacuate.

Elbert Fire Chief John Gresham says he still hasn’t fully processed the news.

“It was hard. We work very hard to get people to volunteer, so when you finally get somebody who will, It’s hard when this turns up like this,” Gresham said.

One of the 20 members of his all-volunteer fire department was accused of being a fire starter. Alex “A.J.” Averett, 19, a probationary volunteer with less than six months on the job, was arrested last week.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s life. You’ve got to go through it,” Gresham said.

Averett was the first to call in the County Road 102 fire, but Gresham was one of many who made sacrifices to fight it.

“Most people had to go to work the next day, Monday. So there was about four of us who were able to stay all week,” Gresham said. “We took personal vacation from our jobs to do it, so it was hard.”

Alex J. Averett (credit: CBS)

Alex J. Averett (credit: CBS)

He said he worries the case could malign his department and he will be following the criminal proceedings closely. He said he has not spoken to Averett since the arrest, but he has tried to keep morale high among the rest of his firefighters.

“There’s no use being angry about it, just go on, keep doing our good job and keep working.”

Averett admitted to investigators that he started the fire. He said he did it for the experience but never expected it to grow so large. He remains in jail on a $50,000 bond.

Wildfire Resources

– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Wildfire Resources section.

– Read recent Wildfire stories.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

– See images from the most destructive wildfires (Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.


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