A car dragging its muffler down Interstate 25 evidently sparked last week’s 117 fire, which prompted evacuations and rescues and burned nearly 43,000 acres, two dozen homes and untold numbers of livestock, Sheriff Bill Elder told Gazette news partner KKTV on Tuesday.

A few people reported seeing the car before the fire scoured southern El Paso County, Elder told the news station.

“They simply maybe didn’t know that that muffler had dropped to the point that it created a hazardous condition,” he told KKTV.

Earlier, the sheriff told county commissioners that the number of homes burned had increased from 23 to 24 after he learned about a yurt that had been occupied and was incincerated in the blaze.

State and local officials, as well as experts at the National Weather Service in Pueblo, have warned repeatedly that the tinderbox-dry southern Colorado region is a danger zone that could erupt in wildfires given the slightest mishap. A discarded cigarette butt or even a hot car pulled off the road into dry grass could spark a deadly wildfire, given the dry foliage and high winds prevalent in the region now.

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