An Ignacio-area man has been arrested on suspicion of starting multiple wildfires during the past month in La Plata County.
Elijah Rugg, 25, was contacted by law enforcement Tuesday along County Road 310, southeast of Durango, where several fires had been started, according to the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office. He was being held Wednesday at the La Plata County Jail on suspicion of one count of felony arson, with more expected to be filed, according to the Sheriff’s Office. His bail was set at $10,000.
“He’s admitted to starting several fires, and evidence revealed that he started (Tuesday) night’s fire that burned about 1 acre of land,” said Chris Burke, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.
Four times in the past month, the Los Pinos Fire Protection District has responded to multiple fires started on the same day in the same locations, said Tony Harwig, Los Pinos fire chief.
In mid-May, five fires were started along County Road 319, southwest of Ignacio. Two fires were sparked June 5 along County Road 318 west of Ignacio, and three more fires were started Saturday along County Road 319. All the locations are in southeast La Plata County.
Around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, firefighters responded to seven fires scattered miles apart on County Road 310, west of Ignacio.
“We were finding incendiary items at each one. Of course, when you have that many fires you know there’s a problem, but we were finding evidence, as well, at each one,” Harwig said.
The Southern Ute Police Department “swarmed the area,” and law enforcement checked passing vehicles for a possible suspect, Harwig said.
Law enforcement determined Rugg was in the area or had called to report fires on previous occasions, Burke said. The Sheriff’s Office contacted Rugg and took him into custody Tuesday night. Rugg moved to La Plata County from North Carolina in late 2020.
The Los Pinos Fire Protection District deployed two brush trucks, a tanker, a fire investigator and the fire chief to extinguish the blazes.
Durango Fire Protection District and the Bureau of Indian Affairs assisted with three fire trucks and three brush trucks, respectively. In total, about 26 personnel were at the scene, along with a couple of residents helping with shovels.
La Plata County, San Juan National Forest and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe enacted Stage 1 fire restrictions this week in response to dangerous fire conditions.
“The biggest fire Tuesday night was about an acre. It was torching the trees, throwing embers and starting spot fires on both sides of the road,” Harwig said. “This is at night. Think about that. If this was 2 in the afternoon ... .”
Los Pinos stayed in the area until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday and continued patrolling for fire activity and investigating into the day, Harwig said.
“We’re definitely in fire season now,” Harwig said. “I hope they finally caught this guy and it stops.”