Colorado officials initially thought last weekend's fast-moving Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than 900 homes in the Denver suburbs of Louisville and Superior, was sparked by downed power lines. After ruling that out, investigators are now focusing on a property owned by the Christian fundamentalist sect Twelve Tribes, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Monday.
Pelle had said Sunday that law enforcement officials had served a search warrant at a specific property, but declined to elaborate. He said Sunday he was referring to the Twelve Tribes land and an adjacent property. People had reported seeing a shed on fire on the Twelve Tribes land Thursday, right before the fire spread through the drought-primed brush and neighborhoods in Boulder County.
Pelle on Monday urged people not to jump to conclusions, saying the investigation into the fire's origins could take weeks or months. "We're going to take our time and be methodical because the stakes are huge," he said. The FBI, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) are aiding the investigation.
About 35,000 people had to evacuate their homes to escape the Marshall Fire, and many are still in shelters; two people are still missing.
A Twelve Tribes spokeswoman said Monday that an investigation was taking place but did not comment further.
"Twelve Tribes originated from a youth Bible study group in the 1970s in Chattanooga, Tennessee," The New York Times reports. "Since then, it has grown into an international network of self-governing communities scattered across North and South America, Europe and Australia. The settlement in Boulder is one of two in Colorado." Men who belong to the sect "are expected to wear long beards and tie their hair back, while women dress modestly," the Times adds. "Its members often work at several businesses owned by the group across the country, which include a deli in Boulder."