Wyoming Man Charged With Arson In Massive Laramie County Grass Fire

A 62-year-old Laramie County man has been charged with third-degree arson for allegedly leaving garbage to smolder on a windy morning that escalated into an out-of-control grassfire that burned 6,600 acres.

Clair McFarland

March 14, 20246 min read

A March 1 grassfire in Laramie County burned about 6,600 acres.
A March 1 grassfire in Laramie County burned about 6,600 acres. (Courtesy Laramie County Sheriff's Office)

A fire that destroyed more than $100,000 worth of property and multiple buildings earlier this month could have begun as a flaming wind vortex inside a burn barrel with a leak in its bottom, according to court documents filed ahead of the suspect’s arrest.  

The Laramie County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday it had arrested 62-year-old Kenneth Dayton Burke, who faces one count of third-degree arson. The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines. 


Laramie County deputies responded to a grass fire on Dusty Road in rural Laramie County the morning of March 1. 

The fire grew to consume about 6,600 acres and damaged more than six structures, according to an evidentiary affidavit Laramie County deputy attorney Bill Edelman filed Tuesday, along with the criminal charge. 

The damaged structures reportedly range from an attached garage, a home with heavy smoke damage, windows, decks, detached outbuildings, fences, campers and trailers.

The fire also burned grazing land, impacting between 60 and 70 individual properties. 

The insurance company of one homeowner said the person’s home and deck repairs would cost about $100,000, says the affidavit. 

At another affected property on Burberry Ridge, the fire destroyed a garage, damaged the laundry room and smoke-warped the floors and walls of the entire house, the affidavit says. 

A Hose

Laramie County Fire Authority Chief Jason Caughey responded to the fire’s starting point and spoke with the homeowner, Burke. 

The affidavit claims Burke appeared “disgusted with himself” as he used a garden hose in an attempt to douse the fire on his property. 

Caughey spotted a 55-gallon barrel with a screen on top on Burke’s property, which looked like a burn barrel. The chief went to give directions to firefighters, then returned to talk with Burke, but Burke was gone by then, the document says. 

Burke’s westward neighbor was at work when he learned about the fire. He called Burke to ask about it, and Burke reportedly told the neighbor that the fire started at his (Burke’s) home, but didn’t say how the fire started, says the affidavit. 

The neighbor told authorities Burke had a burn barrel on his property and would burn trash early in the morning or late in the evening when the weather was calmer. 

  • Grass fire in Cheyenne on Friday, March 1, 2024
    Grass fire in Cheyenne on Friday, March 1, 2024 (Credit: Victoria Ganskow)
  • Grassfires north and west of Cheyenne on Friday, March 1, 2024
    Grassfires north and west of Cheyenne on Friday, March 1, 2024 (Credit: Victoria Ganskow)
  • Grassfires in Cheyenne on Friday, March 1, 2024
    Grassfires in Cheyenne on Friday, March 1, 2024 (Credit: Victoria Ganskow)


Another neighbor who lives to the east reportedly came home to find the fire drawing close to her home and outbuildings. Fire crews worked on hot spots in the prairie north of her home.

While she worked to keep the fire away from her animals and her house, Burke walked down her driveway and asked if she was home when the fire started and if everyone was safe, the affidavit says. 

He said he was burning trash and “it got away from him,” and he apologized, the document adds. 

Another person helping the eastward neighbor reportedly overheard this discussion. The helper later told police Burke “seemed to care” about Meyers’ house. He grabbed a hose and sprayed a hot spot next to the woman’s fence line. 


A man who lives to the east of Burke told authorities that while he fought the fire on his own property, Burke approached and asked if there was any damage to the neighbor’s farm equipment. 

The neighbor said Burke appeared to be in a daze and was distraught, the affidavit says. 

Search Warrant

Deputies executed a search warrant March 6, and took note of the burn barrel, in which sat aluminum cans, papers, foil, chicken wire and a metal tube, reportedly. The affidavit says the bottom third of the barrel had a hole, which appeared to be where the metal failed, allegedly unleashing the fire onto the land.

“The fire appeared to have started within a 2-foot radius of the burn barrel,” says the affidavit. 

The burn pattern advanced narrowly from Burke’s property, but widened as the fire moved east and north. Burke’s prairie grass bore minor to moderate burn damage, while the burn pattern allegedly reflected moderate, then high damage as the fire progressed east and north. 

The wind gusts that morning could have created a vortex in the burn barrel, flinging the heated material out of the barrel and onto the prairie grass, the affidavit relates from Deputy Benjamin Jacquot’s cause and origin investigation. 

Jacquot found pieces of melted metal and plastic on the ground within a foot of the burn barrel, says the affidavit. 

“Many of the properties on Dusty Road had dumpsters for trash pickup on their properties,” the document continues. “There was no dumpster on Burke’s property.”

Investigators say they found no other potential ignition points like wires, hot engines or tools near the fire’s origin point. 

Routine Burn

Laramie County Sheriff’s Detective Michael Young spoke with Burke on March 8. 

Burke said there was no wind at 7 a.m. Half an hour later, he went to burn trash in his burn barrel, as he had for several years, the affidavit says. 

He said he stayed at the burn barrel while the trash was burning and placed a grate at the barrel’s mouth. 

By 8 a.m., the fire had burned down inside the barrel and the flames weren’t high, though it was still hot and glowing with embers, the document relates from the interview. 

He went inside the house to get ready for work. But at 9 a.m. he looked outside and realized the grass was burning, and the fire was roving east along his backyard fence. The fire also spread toward Burke’s tree line and his neighbor’s westward property, says the document. 

The affidavit says Burke called 911, grabbed his hose and sprayed the fire. 

Firefighters doused the fire on his property, so he went to his neighbor’s house to help douse the embers, then to his other neighbor’s house to check on the farming equipment, then back home, where he reportedly finished getting ready and went to work. 

He also talked with his neighbor who was at work and alerted him about the fire, says the affidavit. 

Burke’s case is ongoing in Cheyenne Circuit Court. 

Grassfires north and west of Cheyenne on Friday, March 1, 2024
Grassfires north and west of Cheyenne on Friday, March 1, 2024 (Credit: Victoria Ganskow)

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter