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Chamisa Hills fire suspect to appear in court

Fire crews battle a blaze at the vacant country club in Rio Rancho on Oct. 4, 2019. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The first hearing has been set for a man accused of setting a massive country club in Rio Rancho on fire last year.

Juan Romero, 41, is charged with arson over $20,000 in the Oct. 2, 2019, incident. Romero was arrested earlier this month and the first hearing in the case is set for Jan. 8.

Romero declined to comment and said he would be releasing a statement in the coming weeks.

The fire destroyed the abandoned Chamisa Hills Country Club, formerly Club Rio Rancho, and resulted in an estimated $2.5 million in damage.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Magistrate Court:

Rio Rancho firefighters responded around 8 p.m. to the sprawling structure at the country club, north of Golf Course and Southern. Crews fought the blaze for hours as it engulfed the building and caused the roof to collapse.

Afterward, fire investigators used a canine named Whizzy to track the fire’s origin to the roof of the building. Weeks later, an anonymous tip came into Crime Stoppers that Romero was responsible.

The man told investigators that Romero, who was previously employed at the country club, told him he climbed on the roof, poured gasoline and set it on fire.

The man said Romero picked him up and drove them to the fire to “watch it” as crews battled the blaze.

“This behavior is very common with an arsonist who wants to return to the scene and observe his actions,” an investigator wrote in the affidavit.

Romero told investigators he had previously committed a burglary at the country club and drove to the scene of the fire but did not start it.

During an interview, he told investigators the fire may have been set to collect insurance on the property and also that homeless people who frequent the area may be responsible.

Others told investigators that Romero told them over text messages about the fire but the messages could not be found and investigators believe Romero deleted the messages and destroyed the phone he used to send them.

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