The Twelve Tribes, the international Christian fundamentalist community founded in Chattanooga, had property involved in a massive fire near Denver last week.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Monday a property owned by the Twelve Tribes was a focus for determining the start of the fire. The Marshall fire, which burned 9.4 square miles northwest of Denver, forced about 35,000 people from their homes and destroyed nearly 1,000 buildings.
Elbert Eugene Spriggs Jr., who died in January 2021, founded the Twelve Tribes in Chattanooga in the early 1970s.
The community operates the Yellow Deli on McCallie Avenue, as well as other restaurants, hostels and farms in dozens of places across the nation and around the world, including in Australia, France and Argentina, according to the community's website.
The businesses fund their communities that attempt to mirror the Christian church in the first century. Members live together, sharing possessions as well. They describe themselves as creating a new society and social order, supporting one another to stay away from the perceived moral failings of the world, such as broken family relationships, environmental damage and increasing secularization.
The Twelve Tribes denounces what it views as society violating God's "natural law," specifically the "time-honored ideals of the hard-working man, the submissive wife and respectful children," according to the group's website.
News investigations and documentaries about the group have alleged systemic child abuse and child labor promoted by group leaders and justified by Bible passages. The group has admitted to punishing children with wooden rods, citing a passage from the Book of Proverbs, but denied other accusations.
The investigation into the start of the fire involves investigators from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Forest Service, according to reporting from The Associated Press.
A video posted to Twitter Dec. 30 showed a barn on fire near Boulder, which began speculation the fire originated on the Twelve Tribes property.
A spokesperson for the Twelve Tribes told the Times Free Press the group was waiting for the investigation to be complete and had no further comment. The religious community's website was down Tuesday morning.
Pelle said Monday the investigation could take weeks or months to be announced. The Boulder County Office of Emergency Management said no downed power lines were found in the area under investigation.
The fire near Denver burned through an area known as Marshall Mesa near the Rocky Mountains. The Associated Press reported the area has large areas of private grasslands.
As of Tuesday, two people were missing and crews were searching for them and other survivors, according to the Associated Press. No deaths have been reported.
Contact Wyatt Massey at email@example.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.