Colorado firefighters may be close to extinguishing one of the most destructive fires in the state’s history, but theories about how it started are already beginning to blaze. However, investigators have "all but ruled out natural causes" in the blaze near Colorado Springs, according to a local sheriff. Colorado authorities are still trying to determine what caused the Black Forest Fire that burnt over 16,000 thousand acres, killed two people and destroyed more than 500 structures. Tens of thousands of Coloradans have fled the flames and have yet to return home.
According to El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, investigators have ruled out natural causes for the fire as they minutely examined a 24-square-foot area where it is believed the fire was sparked. “I can't really go any further on that, but I can say we are pretty confident it was not, for instance, a lightning strike," he said. Earlier this week, Maketa also said this week said the conflagration is being treated as a crime. This means that investigators are preserving every piece of evidence that can find at the apparent origin of the flames. However, the sheriff could not confirm whether there was a crime committed indeed.
The fire was 95 percent contained on June 20 and firefighters hoped that it would be fully contained in the evening.
The fire quickly destroyed forests, homes and business in an area northeast of Colorado Springs, where the Air Force Academy is located and not far from Cheyenne Mountain, where the U.S. military has an essential underground facility that tracks possible missile and aerial attacks on the North American continent. Also nearby are military installations such as Fort Carson and two Air Force bases.
Rachel Ehrenfeld, who has written extensively on terrorism and militant Islam suggested in an article posted on the website of the American Center for Democracy that al-Qaeda terrorists may be linked to the fire in Colorado. She wrote, “While many of the fires that have scorched millions of acres and destroyed thousands of homes in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and other states have been identified as arson, none have been publicly attributed to criminal or terrorist groups, despite the presence of Mexican gangs and large number of other illegals in our Western states ... How many Tzarnaevs are hiding in Colorado's woods?” Ehrenfeld referred to the Tzarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokar, who have been accused of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Ehrenfeld noted in her article that Al-Qaeda’s English-language magazine, Inspire, published in 2012 a guide to starting forest fires as a cheap method of terror. The article noted that Montana is the most fire-attack-worthy state due its large number of people living in and around forests. Indeed, some ten years ago, according to Mother Jones magazine, an Al Qaeda operative told the FBI about a plot to ignite several simultaneous wildfires across the country. However, the National Interagency Fire Center concluded that it was not a credible threat.
According to Mother Jones magazine, Don Smurthwaite of the Bureau of Land Management downplayed Ehhrenfeld's theory, but did not dismiss it. While there is no evidence in recent years of wildfires started by terrorists, he said, they remain a possibility. In fact, the Japanese during the Second World War sent incendiary devices aloft on balloons in effort to set fires in the U.S.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, people started 58,331 wildfires, while fewer than 10,000 were caused by lightning. Lightning fires, however, burned 6.8 million acres, which is more than twice the amount consumed by anthropogenic fires. Campfires, fireworks, and vehicle fires are to blame for most wildfires.
In 2012, Ehrenfeld noted, Russia's security (FSB) chief, Aleksandr Bortnikov warned, "al-Qaeda was complicit in recent forest fires in Europe" as part of the terrorists' "strategy of a thousand cuts." Bortnikov spoke of "extremist sites [that] contained detailed instructions of waging the 'forest jihad' and stressed that such a method had proved itself effective as it inflicted both physical and moral damage, needed little training or investment and it was extremely hard for police to find and apprehend the arsonists."
Since then, wrote Ehrenfeld, "more fatwas advocating that 'Fire is cheap, easy and effective tool for economic warfare' have been issued. They've included detailed instructions for constructing remote-controlled "ember bombs, and how to set fires without leaving a trace."
Fires have devastated Israel’s modest forests in recent years. The source of the fires, said Ehrenfeld, has been linked to Palestinian terrorists.
Mother Jones, a leftist publication based in San Francisco, dismissed Ehrenfeld’s concerns. "What ACD's Ehrenfeld and other wildfire terrorism hand-wringers don't seem interested in exploring is how much more devastating an attack could be if climate change continues unabated, with dry air, high winds, and low humidity making fires more frequent and ferocious." Mother Jones noted that the first issue of Al-Qaeda’s magazine, Inspire, featured a column allegedly written by Osama bin Laden that addressed the need to combat climate change.
Mother Jones concluded, "If the government does deem the threat of a terrorist wildfire to be credible, forest flammability could become yet another opportunity to reframe climate change as a matter of national security, along with issues like water shortages, energy security, and overseas disaster response." The magazine went on to suggest the use of Unmanned Aerial vehicles, or drones, to fight forest fires.