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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Colfax blaze that resulted in fire chief’s death was caused by discarded cigarette butts, official says

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 31, 2021

Jim Krouse  (COURTESY OF CRAIG CORBEILL)
Jim Krouse (COURTESY OF CRAIG CORBEILL)
By Garrett Cabeza The Spokesman-Review

The Colfax wildland fire that longtime Colfax Fire Chief Jim Krouse was responding to when he died of an apparent heart attack was accidental and caused by the improper disposal of cigarettes, according to Pullman Fire Department investigator Tony Nuttman.

Nuttman said in a PFD news release that he and fellow fire investigators Chris Wehrung of PFD and Darren Jones of Washington State University Fire Services interviewed witnesses and collected evidence to determine the cause.

The Whitman County Sheriff’s Office, working with the local fire investigators, said in a news release it believes the fire Saturday on Green Hollow Road likely started in an area where a homeless person had been staying.

Based on fire patterns and direction of travel, investigators were able to pinpoint the suspected location where the fire originated, the WCSO release said. Items and personal belongings consistent with a campsite were in the immediate area. Investigators also located several freshly discarded cigarette butts in direct proximity of the area where the fire likely started.

The WCSO release said deputies confirmed with the landowner that no one had permission to be camping on their property. A short time after crews extinguished the fire, deputies contacted a person walking along the road who admitted he had been camping in that area.

The individual said in the sheriff’s office release he was sleeping at that location while waiting for a Monday morning bus to take him to Oregon. He also told deputies he had been smoking and had discarded his cigarette butts in that same area.

The person, whom the sheriff’s office did not name, was arrested and booked into Whitman County Jail for suspicion of second-degree criminal trespass. He has since posted bond on those charges. The matter is still under investigation.

Services for Krouse are pending at Bruning Funeral Home in Colfax.

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