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Waldo Canyon Fire Evacuees Return To Find Property Burglarized, Vandalized

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) - Some evacuees from the Waldo Canyon Fire are returning home to find they were burglarized.

One couple's car was stolen right out of their garage. Thieves also took jewelry and computers.

"It's almost as bad as a house burned down because you feel violated. There are people out there who prey upon victims and people that are already suffering, so I feel like I've been hit by a train," said Waldo Canyon Fire evacuee Linda Burton.

So far 22 homes have been reported as being burglarized while evacuees were waiting out the fire.

The reports were enough to prompt city councilmembers to ask District Attorney Dan May, who represents El Paso County and Teller County, to talk with reporters about looting.

He said he could not speak to specifics but said the alleged looters would likely be charged with burglary and could face decades in jail depending on the number of convictions.

"You can get up to 24 years in prison for that. If they've done more than one burglary you can stack that time on top of it so in other words if they've done two burglaries you can get up to 48 years, 3 burglaries up to 72 years," May told reporters at the Monday morning briefing.

Mays also said his office will file the maximum charges in these cases and promises to be tough in prosecuting.

"It is unconscionable that people would be going into these homes at this time," he said.

But Mays said there are lots of eyes on those evacuated neighborhoods.

"On a personal note, I want you to know I've been up in the Mountain Shadows area a number of times. I've been very impressed by law enforcement up there. I myself have had to go through at least a half dozen different checkpoints. I myself got stopped over 20 times by different agencies trying to find out who I was and why I was up there.

"Certainly Colorado Springs police officers recognized me once they came upon me but I was stopped by Aurora Police Department, Denver Police Department, I was stopped by members of a FBI taskforce. … I was contacted by people from DOC, I was contacted by two big fire trucks with big groups of men asking, 'What are you doing here?' I was contacted by other fire agencies. I was contacted by people on foot and in cars. They are doing a tremendous job but unfortunately as anything else, you can't prevent people from doing crimes."

The evacuated neighborhoods weren't the only ones targeted. About 60 cars were broken into while evacuees were staying in nearby hotels.

Police in Colorado Springs are still compiling crime reports and not everyone has been allowed to return home. There are still 3,000 people evacuated. Police have not commented on whether they expect to receive more reports of burglaries or vandalism.

But Mays acknowledged there could be more reports of looting given the continuing evacuations and he has a message for would be criminals.

"You better get prepared also. I hope you've packed your bags. We intend to evacuate you from our community and we intend to do that for many, many years."

In another criminal matter, Colorado Springs police arrested a man accused of impersonating a firefighter at the Waldo Canyon fire.

Police say Kip Andy Petersen, 53, was wearing firefighting clothese when officer approached him in an evacuation area Wednesday. Police say they falsely told him he was a firefighter.

Petersen is the second man arrested for impersonating a firefighter on Colorado's wildfire lines. Larimer County Sheriff's deputies arrested Michael Maher behind the fire lines of the High Park Fire after National Guardsmen became suspicious of him. Maher also faces charges in Jefferson County for impersonating a firefighter during the Lower North Fork Fire.

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