FBI assists in abortion clinic fire inquiry

CASPER — Casper police are working with the FBI to investigate suspected arson at a Casper clinic that planned to open and provide abortions starting next month. 

Investigators found “several areas” inside the clinic where an “accelerant,” like gasoline, was used in the fire, according to a statement Thursday. The incident is still under investigation, and surveillance images cannot yet be released. 

On Wednesday, police said they received a report around 4 a.m. from someone living nearby that a person with a “gas can and black bag” was seen fleeing the building. The caller also reported hearing glass break. 

Officers arrived and saw smoke coming from the clinic, so they called fire crews. Casper Fire Deputy Chief Devin Garvin said the fire was relatively small, and police said it was “quickly extinguished.” 

Police on the scene said there was extensive smoke damage inside. 

According to Thursday’s release, the fire was on the building’s west side — the side nearest to the Sinclair gas station next door. No one was inside the building at the time, and no injuries were reported. 

Burkhart said the clinic’s setup was in the final stages, and her team planned to start training staff next week. Some, but not all, of the clinic’s equipment had been moved inside before the fire. It remains unclear how the fire may affect the clinic’s plans to open in mid-June. 

Burkhart was allowed inside on Thursday to begin assessing what repairs will be needed, according to a clinic spokesperson. 

The fire didn’t necessarily surprise her, Burkhart said, but she said she was feeling angry and sad at the news. 

The clinic’s founder lives in Colorado but was in Casper on Wednesday. 

At least three security cameras were on at the time of the fire, and footage was turned over to law enforcement Wednesday. 

In addition to the FBI, Casper police are also working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate the cause of the fire. 

Anyone with information related to the incident can call the department at 9307) 235- 7517 or make an anonymous report through Crime Stoppers at crime-stoppers.com or (307) 577-8477. 

Since the clinic was announced in mid-April, anti-abortion protesters have demonstrated outside the site every Thursday afternoon. Many signed a statement of peace during the first demonstration, promising not to damage the property or participate in violence of any kind. 

Bob Brechtel, a former lawmaker who coordinates a prayer group as part of those demonstrations, said there have been around 70 people outside the clinic on even the slowest days.