Fire ruled arson
Investigators believe Country Mall blaze set deliberately
Craig — Craig police, firefighters and fire specialists investigating a blaze at the Country Mall concluded their probe Wednesday. During a meeting later in the day, investigators reached a consensus on the fire’s cause.
“The consensus of all of them was that it was a human-being-caused fire,” Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said. He added, “The fire investigation specialists all ruled out any accidental causes and/or natural causes for the fire.”
Firefighters and police were called to the mall, 356 Ranney St., at 10:16 p.m. Sunday. The fire destroyed the 22,048-square-foot building, which housed 12 businesses. The fire has been called one of the worst in city history.
Investigators from the Police Department, Craig Fire/Rescue, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and insurance companies sifted through the debris in a joint investigation.
That investigation has now been turned over to the Craig Police Department. There are no suspects.
“The investigation is just beginning into that arena,” Vanatta said.
Because the fire is an open investigation, Vanatta could not comment on many aspects of the arson, such as where the fire began and the circumstances leading to investigators believing the fire was intentionally set.
However, the police chief said the time and day of the fire aroused suspicion.
“That always will cause a little suspicion, but does not mean it couldn’t have been accidental,” he said. “But because of the time and the day of the week : you’re automatically concerned.”
The mall is valued at more than $655,000, according to a Jan. 1 county appraisal. It is insured at $2.2 million, Vanatta said.
Chief Chris Nichols, of Craig Fire/Rescue, said it’s been “an extremely long time” since there was an arson in Craig as big as the Country Mall blaze.
News of the fire’s cause caught Debbie Rudd, executive director of the Yampa Valley Pregnancy Center, off guard Wednesday. The Pregnancy Center was located inside the mall.
“I really don’t know what to say to that,” Rudd said. “It really saddens me that someone would do that. (The fire) put a lot of people out of work.”
Some businesses and agencies have begun putting the pieces back together.
The Moffat County Farm Service Agency has relocated to a Routt County office, 1475 Pine St. The Pregnancy Center will resume normal business hours – 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday – at an auxiliary building at 580 Green St.
In an effort to make coal more competitive against natural gas and renewable energy sources, two of the nation’s largest coal companies, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, have announced that they plan to combine assets in Colorado and Wyoming. Routt County’s Twentymile Mine would be managed under the new joint venture.