HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) – What started the Cottonwood Complex blaze that claimed one life and destroyed at least 35 homes?
“We are still in the investigation. There’s not a lot I can say about it, but we are in the middle of that,” said Reno County sheriff Darrian Campbell. “When you see 35 homes totally destroyed, that’s awful. That’s awful. I have no words.”
Campbell says he is impressed with all the help in Reno County, from fire crews coming from all over the state to volunteers pitching in and his staff working overtime.
But he says charges are a possibility, and the state fire marshal’s office is also investigating since there has been a death in the fire.
“Also, there’s so much monetary damage done by this fire,” said Campbell. “We just have to look into it and investigate it. If somebody is responsible for it, we can possibly hold them accountable.”
Some residents near the fire are asking about fines or legal charges coming as a result of the fire.
“I think somebody should have to pay for this,” said Patricia Strait, who lives near the fire. “There’s like, what, 35 houses that were burned down? How many people are out of a home?”
Patricia says her sister lost her home in the fire. And that fire barely missed her own home.
Campbell continues to praise those responders at every level that have stepped up to help.
“The outpour for offers to help is phenomenal, and I just wanted to say thank you to all those agencies,” said Campbell.
Campbell also said the state fire marshal’s office is involved because of a death resulting from the fire.
“Everybody knows that there has been a body found, so automatically, the state fire marshal office has to be notified, and they were on the scene,” said Campbell. “So the state fire marshal, Hutchinson fire department and Reno county sheriff’s office went ahead and responded and to work that crime scene. And I say crime scene because that’s now how it has to be investigated.”
KSN Legal analyst Dan Monnat looked into charges due to the fire.
“The person could be liable for, even unintended deaths,” said Monnat. “There are possibly two homicide charges that could possibly be charged. One is second-degree murder, which is the killing of a human being recklessly manifesting in extreme disregard for the value of human life or involuntary manslaughter, which is simply the killing of another human being, recklessly.”
Monnat says those would be extreme charges, but there is case law in Kansas that looks at unintentional consequences from a fire.
KSN News reached out to the district attorney’s office in Reno County.
Deputy district attorney Andrew Davidson responded.
“The investigation into the wildfires is still ongoing, and the Reno County District Attorney’s Office cannot comment about the investigation at this time,” said Davidson. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families affected by this tragedy.”