Humans cause most of Colorado’s wildfires, but a lack of investigative resources means few are held responsible

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Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
North of Estes Park, smoke and ash from the nearby East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fire cover the trees, the mountains and the grass.

Wildfires destroy lives and homes, choke the air with smoke and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars to fight.

But in Colorado, officials don’t know how the majority of human-caused wildfires start. No other state in the West has a worse record when it comes to finding a cause. Even the largest, most destructive human-caused fires — East Troublesome, Cameron Peak, Waldo Canyon, Black Forest — remain unsolved. No known cause, and no arrests.

CPR News looked at nearly two decades of data and spoke with dozens of sources in Colorado and across the West to figure out why.

Read more about how our reporters analyzed Colorado wildfire data for this investigation.