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Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said at a press conference Monday that the fire may have started on Colorado property owned by Twelve Tribes, a controversial sect that has reportedly praised the enslavement of black Americans and has come under scrutiny multiple times for allegedly using child labor.
Twelve Tribes could not be reached by The Post on Thursday. The Yellow Deli in Boulder, which the group operates, is currently closed.
The wildfire, the worst recorded in state history, was fueled by extreme winds after erupting last Thursday in and around the communities of Louisville and Superior at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills. It scorched land across 30 miles between Denver and Boulder. Two people remain missing.
Pelle said the investigation into the blaze’s origins have been narrowed to a single neighborhood and his office has received credible witness reports of a fire on the Twelve Tribes property in that area just before the wildfire exploded.
“There was a viral video that was posted of a shed on fire. We don’t know that that shed started the fire or whether it was secondary,” he said at the news briefing.
A neighbor of Twelve Tribes, Mike Zoltowski, told the Denver Post he saw the fire at the group’s property, which houses multiple families.
When Zoltowski, who is in the fire-resistant home construction business, went to check out the fire on his neighbor’s property, one of the members told him that a “dwelling” on their property had caught fire.
“Then I went over to their field and their field was on fire,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate, it’s still under investigation, but there is no possible way the fire started from any other place.”
The neighbor told the Denver Post that he has seen authorities on the group’s property every day since the fire.
The sheriff was careful at the press conference to not jump to conclusions, warning that the investigation could take weeks or months.
“We’re going to take our time and be methodical because the stakes are huge,” he said, adding that the investigation is complicated by the snowstorm that was largely responsible for putting out the blaze.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called Twelve Tribes a “white supremacist cult.” It is estimated to have around 3,000 members.