It was easy to blame a “cult” for the most destructive fire in Colorado history. The official investigation has now concluded it was innocent.
by Massimo Introvigne
The Marshall Fire of December 30, 2021 was the most destructive wildfire in the history of Colorado. Two died, one thousand families lost their homes, and damage to properties amounted to more than $2 billion.
When such disasters occur, as one local newspaper has now wisely commented, “people look for someone to blame.” And what better scapegoat than a “cult”? It was widely reported that the Twelve Tribes, a conservative Christian community, was to blame, and anti-cultists had a field day and added causing destructive fires to their laundry list of “cult evils.”
Except it was not true. The 18-month investigation has now concluded. Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty has announced that filing charges against the Twelve Tribes “would be wrong and unethical.”
Sheriff Curtis Johnson, who lost his home in the fire, reported at the press conference introducing the report that the Twelve Tribes community had burned branches and construction debris in their property on December 24. According to the investigation report, they were aware of the high risk of fires in the area. Not only did they extinguish the fire and buried the ashes according to proper procedure, the report says. They had the site inspected by the local fire department, which confirmed to them that the ashes had been buried correctly.
Neither the fire department nor the Twelve Tribes could expect in any way that, six days later, an exceptional wind would uncover the still hot ashes and reignite the fire.
Besides, the fire site in the Twelve Tribes property was one of the two origins of the fire, and perhaps not the most destructive. Sparks from a power line managed by Xcel Energy started a second fire two thousand feet away from the Twelve Tribes property. Or at least this is the report’s reconstruction, since Xcel, which is now being sued by victims, claims that an underground coal deposit rather than its power lines caused the second fire.
At any rate, the “cult” was unfairly blamed. They did burn branches and debris six days before the fire, but they did it by the book and even had the fire department confirm that they had taken care of everything correctly. They are not professionals in the field, but fire department officers are, and they told the Twelve Tribes there were no risks.
Fatality, not carelessness by the Twelve Tribes, caused the destructive fire. How the media, not to mention the anti-cultists (some of whom even used the incident to try to sell “intervention,” i.e., deprogramming services to parents who have adult children in the Twelve Tribes), is a confirmation of the bias against the “cults.”
Unbelievably, even after the investigation had proved them wrong, some media continued to use the “C” word and to remind the readers that, although not guilty of the fire, the Twelve Tribes group is regarded by “experts” as a “cult.”