Howie sentenced to jail, community service for starting Crystal Fire

Thomas Howie, who pled guilty to starting the Crystal Fire that burned 3,200 acres and destroyed 13 homes north of Masonville last year, was sentenced to 60 days in jail and 1,500 hours of community service on Friday.

Larimer County District Court Judge Stephen Schapanski also placed Howie on six years probation. Howie’s work release at the Larimer County Detention Center will start Monday, Feb. 13. His community service will be spent working on the land near Buckhorn and Redstone canyons that burned for 10 days in April 2011.

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Howie changed his plea to guilty last November, halting his jury trial on the charge of fourth-degree arson. In court Friday, he apologized to those who lost their homes.

“I’ve never gotten the opportunity to apologize to all the victims,” Howie said. “I never meant for any of this to happen. I never meant to harm any of them.”

Howie and another man were burning slash at 2394 Granite Road, property owned in part by his father, on April 1 when the piles flared up. The two men fled the scene, but firefighters brought the blaze under control that evening. However, high winds blew the fire back up the next day. It was finally contained on April 13 with no loss of life.

Several families who lost their homes have filed a separate civil suit against Howie. Those who spoke at Friday’s hearing asked the judge not to hand Howie the maximum sentence of six years in prison. While the civil suit is still pending, the homeowners seemed satisfied with the resolution of the criminal case.

“I don’t see Thomas Howie being in prison to benefit anyone,” said Kelly O’Donnell, one of the homeowners involved in the suit. “I would like to see him benefit the forest.”

Prosecutors have 90 days in which to file for restitution from Howie.