Danish man charged with starting destructive Colorado wildfire

DENVER, July 12 (Reuters) - A Danish national accused of starting the second-largest wildfire on record in Colorado was charged on Thursday with 141 counts of first-degree arson for each building destroyed in the massive blaze, court documents showed.

Jesper Joergensen, 52, was advised of the felony charges in Costilla County Court via a telephone hook-up from the county jail where he is being held on a $50,000 bond for igniting the Spring Creek Fire in southern Colorado on July 27.

The blaze has scorched nearly 108,000 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, although wetter weather and mild temperatures this week have allowed crews to carve containment lines around 83 percent of the fire by Thursday afternoon, according to the InciWeb federal tracking website.

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Spring Creek and Lake Christine fires in Colorado
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Spring Creek and Lake Christine fires in Colorado
BASALT, CO - JULY 04: A view of the Lake Christine fire as it rises behind Elk Run on July 4, 2018 in Basalt, Colorado. (Photo by Chris Council/Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 4: Brandon Laird holds his daughter Emmy, 4, as they watch the sun sets over the Spring Creek Fire on July 4, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. They are evacuees who have a family cabin in Cuchara and hoping to go home soon. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
FT. GARLAND, CO - JULY 05: Evacuees Rudy Garcia, left, and his wife of 63-years Delores, from San Antonio Texas, look over the Spring Fire map from the American Red Cross shelter at the Ft. Garland Community Center July 05, 2018. Their summer home was spared from the flames, which has consumed over 100,000 acres and has destroyed over 130 homes. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
BASALT, CO - JULY 04: The Lake Christine fire burns the hillside at the base of Basalt Mountain behind the Basalt Middle School on July 4, 2018 in Basalt, Colorado. (Photo by Chris Council/Getty Images)
FT. GARLAND, CO - JULY 05: Wild land firefighters walk to camp at the Ft. Garland Community Center after spending a long day fighting the Spring Fire July 05, 2018. The Spring fire has consumed over 100,000 acres and has destroyed over 130 homes. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
WALSENBURG, CO - JULY 5: Mike Duran and his son Roy, load donated hay and grain into their truck outside of the Rio Cucharas Veterinary Clinic on July 5, 2018 in Walsenburg, Colorado. Due to the massive Spring Creek Fire many ranchers who own horses and cattle are scrambling trying to find hay and grain to feed their livestock. Much of the grazing area for the animals has either burned or is under evacuation which leaves the owners with no place for their animals. Many of the evacuated animals are at the Huerfano County Fairgrounds. Others have been taken to area ranches. People are worried about the long term effects of the fire for their livestock. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
BASALT, CO - JULY 04: The streets of downtown Basalt were deserted late Wednesday night as the Lake Christine fire burns at the base of Basalt Mountain on July 4, 2018 in Basalt, Colorado. (Photo by Chris Council/Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 4: The sun sets over the southern portion of the Spring Creek Fire on July 4, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 4: A relieved Dennis Ceremuga holding his horse Cody, gets ready to let local veterinarian Dr. Romy Nicoletta, left, check him out near his house in Piney Ridge Ranch on July 4, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. Ceremuga and his wife Kate McCabe had to evacuate the night of the Spring Creek Fire and were only able to let their horses loose from their corrals. The corrals and the woods around their house burned but their 3 horses and their home survived. Because the fire was too intense the couple were unable to get to the horses until today. The horses have been in the burn area since the beginning of the fire a week ago. They were hungry and thirsty but otherwise in generally good health. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
BASALT, CO - JULY 04: The streets of downtown Basalt were deserted late Wednesday night as the Lake Christine fire burns at the base of Basalt Mountain on July 4, 2018 in Basalt, Colorado. (Photo by Chris Council/Getty Images)
FT. GARLAND, CO - JULY 05: A wild land firefighter walks to camp at the Ft. Garland Community Center after spending a long day fighting the Spring Fire July 05, 2018. The Spring fire has consumed over 100,000 acres and has destroyed over 130 homes. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 5: Veterinarian Dr. Romy Nicoletta, left, gives a hug to fire evacuee and goat owner Karen Bayci after checking on her goats at the Huerfano County Fairgrounds during the Spring Creek Fire on July 5, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. Bayci's goat Button has been fighting an infection and has been unable to milk her 2 babies. Nicoletta has been working 24/7 to help fire displaced people and their animals all free of charge. She oversees all kinds of animals from horses and cattle to goats, dogs, cats, chickens and any other small animals. Many of the evacuated animals are at the Huerfano County Fairgrounds. She owns the Rio Cucharas Veterinary Clinic and is the first woman vet in the area ever. The clinic is taking any kinds of donations as currently Nicoletta is paying for all her medical supplies and services out of her own pocket. Bayci had to evacuate her house because of the Spring Creek Fire and took with her 14 goats, 2 mules, 6 birds, 2 cats and a chicken. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
BASALT, CO - JULY 04: The Lake Christine fire burns at the base of Basalt Mountain behind the town late on the night of July 4, 2018 in Basalt, Colorado.
FT. GARLAND, CO - JULY 05: South Metro wild land firefighters Dustin Searle, left, and Wes Polk, right, unload gear after arriving back to camp at the Ft. Garland Community Center after spending a long day fighting the Spring Fire July 05, 2018. The Spring fire has consumed over 100,000 acres and has destroyed over 130 homes. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
FT. GARLAND, CO - JULY 05: A thank you card poster awaits firefighters inside the American Red Cross shelter at the Ft. Garland Community Center July 05, 2018. The Spring fire has consumed over 100,000 acres and has destroyed over 130 homes. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
BASALT, CO - JULY 05: The Lake Christine fire lights up the night sky with Highway 82 in the foreground, as viewed from the trestle bridge on the Rio Grande trail near the Roaring Fork Club on July 5, 2018 in Basalt, Colorado.
LA VETA, CO - JULY 5: Veterinarian Dr. Romy Nicoletta gives Prince, a baby goat, a hug after checking on goats at Huerfano County Fairgrounds during the Spring Creek Fire on July 5, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. Nicoletta has been working 24/7 to help fire displaced people and their animals all free of charge. She oversees all kinds of animals from horses and cattle to goats, dogs, cats, chickens and any other small animals. Many of the evacuated animals are at the Huerfano County Fairgrounds. She owns the Rio Cucharas Veterinary Clinic and is the first woman vet in the area ever. The clinic is taking any kinds of donations as currently Nicoletta is paying for all her medical supplies and services out of her own pocket. Behind her is goat owner Karen Bayci. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 4: Two baby Mule deer fawns hide out in the shade near the spike camp for firefighters of the Spring Creek Fire on July 4, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. The fire has now burned 94,125 acres and crews have only 5% containment. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 3: Ty Warren leaves a pen where his father's cattle are being kept at the Huerfano County Fairgrounds where displaced people have brought their pets for safe keeping as the Spring Creek Fire continues to burn on July 3, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. The Spring Creek Fire in Costilla county has so far burned 78,941 acres and is 5% contained. Over 100 structures have burned in the fast moving fire. All kinds of animals have been brought to the site including horses, cows, pigs, goats, dogs, ducks, and chickens. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 3: La Veta homeowners Calvin Hopkins, left, and Cheryl Willburn watch the movement of the Spring Creek Fire as it continues to burn in Costilla county on July 3, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. The Spring Creek Fire in Costilla county has so far burned 78,941 acres and is 5% contained. Over 100 structures have burned in the fast moving fire. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 3: La Veta Marshall Harold Willburn watches the movement of Tthe Spring Creek Fire as it continues to burn in Costilla county on July 3, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. The Spring Creek Fire in Costilla county has so far burned 78,941 acres and is 5% contained. Over 100 structures have burned in the fast moving fire. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LA VETA, CO - JULY 4: Rosebud Sioux firefighter Chance Wooden Knife, left, throws a bad of ice to firefighter Smokey Kills Smart, right, at the spike camp as their Type II initial attack hand crew gets ready to head out on the Spring Creek Fire on July 4, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. The fire has now burned 94,125 acres and crews have only 5% containment. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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It is unclear from the charging documents how many of the 141 structures destroyed are homes. Fire managers earlier said more than 130 homes had been reduced to ash.

Joergensen’s court-appointed attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Joergensen denied to police that he intentionally started the fire, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

U.S. wildfires have already burned more than 3.3 million acres this year, more than the annual average of about 2.6 million acres over the past 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) tracking website.

The American West has been particularly hit hard by wildfires this season, with 50 active fires burning in the region on Thursday, the agency said.

Colorado has suffered 589 fires so far this year, burning a total of 431,540 acres up to Tuesday morning, according to preliminary data provided by NIFC. That is nearly four times the 111,667 acres burned in all of 2017 in the state, according to NIFC data.

Joergensen told investigators that he thought a fire he lit for cooking while camping in the area was extinguished, but that the next day he saw a fire burning in the tinder-dry brush 20 feet away from his camper, police said.

Joergensen was in the United States on a visa which had expired and was living in the country illegally, the police affidavit said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has placed an immigration detainer on Joergensen for possible deportation proceedings whenever he is released from state custody, the agency said in a statement. He is due back in court in August.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Grant McCool)

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