SAN LUIS — Jesper Joergensen has already been bound over for trial on 141 counts of arson in connection with the Spring Fire in Costilla County; now, he faces a preliminary hearing on additional counts out of Huerfano County.
The rapidly moving fire burned in excess of 108,000 acres and destroyed some 180 homes in Costilla and Huerfano counties and was allegedly started June 27 five miles east of Fort Garland by the 52-year-old Joergensen.
It was declared completely out in July, but the fate of the man accused of starting it in Costilla County was determined after a judge’s Friday, Sept. 21. When he was bound over on all counts as charged.
He will appear again at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 for a preliminary hearing on the Huerfano County fires.
Joergensen is in custody on suspicion of first-degree arson, as well as a hold by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), since he is a Danish National with an expired visa.
While he is being held in Costilla County and the largest damage was in that county, 12th Judicial District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen said the charges from Huerfano were filed there and the legal action will take place in San Luis.
Retired 6th Judicial District Judge Gregory G. Lyman of Durango has been presiding due to the fact that all of the 12th Judicial District judges recused themselves when it was learned that a fellow court employee lost a cabin in the fire.
There was no debate at the first preliminary hearing whether Joergensen started a fire at his home, a fire that devastated parts of two counties. The question is whether someone can be charged with felonious first-degree arson if he intentionally started a small fire at his residence, a fire that eventually became the third largest wildfire in Colorado history.
Joergensen reportedly first told investigators he was burning some trash that spread to nearby bushes but changed his story to say he had cooked some meat in an underground burn pit, thought the fire was out and went to sleep in a camper, awakening to the smell of smoke. He lost his camper home as the fire progressed.
Assistant 12th Judicial District Attorney Ashley McCuaig contended Joergensen said in an interview that knew it was dangerous to start the fire with a Level One Fire Ban in place forbidding all open burning. “He knowingly set a fire he knew he shouldn’t have set” and watched its rapid spread.
McCuaig compared Joergensen’s actions to “having an open fire in a tinderbox.” The defendant was eventually arrested while sitting in his pickup truck at the south side of Mountain Home Reservoir playing with his dog and watching the fire.
Representing Joergensen, Deputy Public Defender James Waldo argued that, while the defendant did set a fire near his home east of Fort Garland, he didn’t intend to cause all the damage that ensued.