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Cigarette sparked Colfax wildfire where chief died from heart attack, investigators say

The fire started Saturday on Green Hollow Road in an area where a homeless person had been squatting.
Credit: Colfax Fire Department

COLFAX, Wash. — Fire investigators determined a wildfire in Colfax was caused by a cigarette, according to the Pullman Fire Department.

The fire started Saturday on Green Hollow Road in an area where a homeless person had been squatting, Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said. A short time after crews extinguished the fire deputies spoke with a person who admitted he had been camping in the area. Myers said the man admitted to sleeping in that area while waiting for a Monday morning bus to Oregon. He told deputies he had been smoking and discarded his cigarette butts in the same area, Meyers said.

The man was arrested and booked into the Whitman County Jail for second degree criminal trespass. He has since posted bond, according to the sheriff. The case is still under investigation.

Pullman fire investigator Tony Nuttman ruled the fire accidental. He said he worked with the fellow fire investigators to determine the that a cigarette started the fire.

Former Colfax Fire Chief Jim Krouse, who previously served as Colfax Fire Chief for 40 years, died from an apparent heart attack while responding to the wildfire. It was his fourth call of the day when he collapsed while pulling a hose, according to Colfax Fire Department. Krouse was taken to Whitman Medical Center in Colfax, where physicians were unable to revive him.

Assistant Chief Craig Corbeill described Krouse as "a kid in a candy store" while he was making his fourth run on Saturday, driving a water tender to the Green Hollow Road fire.

Krouse served as Colfax Chief from 1972 to 2010, following his father Earl, who was the chief prior.