Sentencing delayed for firefighter

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Sentencing has been postponed for the volunteer firefighter who allegedly confessed to starting a fire along County Road 102 that scorched more than 600 acres in June 2012.

At a Sept. 16 hearing in Kiowa, the district attorney's office requested the delay in sentencing Alex J. Averett, whose attorney is seeking to reach a plea agreement that will allow Averett to avoid serving additional time in jail.

“Sentencing for Mr. Averett has been continued to investigate some issues concerning restitution,” said Lisa Pinto, communications director for 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler.

“We remain steadfast in seeking restitution for all private and public victims of this damaging fire,” Pinto said, confirming that a final court date has yet to be set for Averett's sentencing.

Arrested in February of this year after a lengthy investigation into the cause of the wildfire, Averett has been out of jail since March 17, when he posted a $25,000 cash bond.

Prior to this week's court appearance, his lawyer, noted Denver attorney Thomas Dunn, had reportedly reached a plea deal with the DA that would result in a sentence of probation for Averett in exchange for a guilty plea and commitment to pay restitution.

“Alex Averett had previously pled guilty to intentionally setting a wildfire,” said Pinto. “As a condition of his plea, Mr. Averett had agreed to pay restitution. However, counsel for Averett has indicated that they do not believe that restitution can be ordered for the Elbert County fire agencies involved in fighting the County Road 102 fire.”

Attempts to reach Dunn following last week's hearing were unsuccessful.

“The case is going to be set for a hearing to allow a judge to determine whether restitution to the fire agencies is appropriate,” Pinto explained.

A 2011 Elbert High School graduate who was 19 at the time of the incident, Averett had worked for six months as a volunteer firefighter for the Elbert County Fire Protection District when the fire occurred.

Fueled by high winds and dry conditions, the fire spread quickly and forced the evacuation of the entire town of Elbert.

Averett called in the fire and was one of the first emergency responders on the scene.

After several hours of fighting the fire, Averett was treated for heat-related injuries and then left the scene.

More than 100 firefighters from multiple agencies needed assistance from county road and bridge teams, law enforcement personnel, and two single-engine aircraft tankers to contain the fire, which burned for 18 days at the same time the Waldo Canyon and Hyde Park blazes were scorching other parts of Colorado.

During a follow-up investigation in which a supervisor and fellow firefighters reported that he had been acting strangely on the day the fire started, Averett initially denied involvement in starting the blaze.

But during a subsequent interview, Averett reportedly confessed, allegedly telling investigators he had set a small grass fire that quickly got out of control and then had called in the alarm to cover his trail.

Averett was charged with a number of counts including second-degree arson, intentionally setting a wildfire, reckless endangerment and trespassing.

The fire occurred on vacant land and Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap said no structures were damaged by the blaze. “But there was damage to some fire equipment and the county spent at least couple of thousand dollars on the tanker drops,” Heap said.

According to a statement given to the Elbert County Sheriff's Office by Elbert Fire Protection District Chief John Gresham, three months before the June 24 fire, Averett had reported another fire on the north side of County Road 102.

Gresham also told investigators that Averett, while working as a volunteer firefighter, had a history of being the first to arrive at fire scenes.