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Apt. fire impacts spread throughout Parachute

PARACHUTE – When a 9-year-old Parachute boy started a fire in his family’s apartment on Dec. 2, school counselor Deborah Cain says he had no concept of the impact of his actions.

The fire destroyed four residential units at the River Manor Apartments and displaced 70 residents for nearly four days.

“In terms of this boy, this family and this situation, it was an accident,” said Cain, Bea Underwood Elementary School’s counselor. The boy lit the fire, she said, but never imagined it would engulf his own home in flames, and burn everything belonging to his family and his neighbors.



No one was injured in the blaze. A total of four families, including the boy’s, were left homeless.

River Manor Apartments is a complex of eight three-story buildings on the south side of Interstate 70. The fire occurred in Building 2, which houses 24 apartments, where the boy and his family lived in a top-floor unit.



Cain said because of confidentiality agreements, she could not go into specifics about the case. She said since the fire, the boy and his family have moved out of the area.

Before leaving, however, the boy and his family received counseling from Cain, Colorado West Mental Health and YouthZone.

“There has been a lot of support for the boy,” said Cain.

Not a criminal offense

According to Roy Taylor of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in Montrose, the fire began when the boy used a lighter to ignite a blanket.

Once the boy’s mother saw the flames, she ran to a nearby hallway to get a fire extinguisher. By the time she returned, she told John Bear of the American Red Cross, the apartment’s walls were fully involved in fire.

“At that point she got her three kids out of the apartment and knocked on her neighbors’ doors to alert them of the fire,” Bear said.

The CBI was brought in to investigate the fire, which is when Taylor determined the boy was responsible fore the fire. Because the boy was under 10, Taylor said he couldn’t be tried. But the boy’s mother could. Taylor said that decision was up to 9th District Attorney Mac Myers.

Myers said this week he did not press charges.

“Based on the evidence and the facts in this case, you apply those facts, looking for a violation,” Myers said. “After reviewing the case report, no charges were filed.”

Myers confirmed the quick and responsible way the boy’s mother handled the fire contributed to his decision not to press charges.

Even though the fire wasn’t a criminal offense, it’s left behind a lot of devastation. So, how can parents and others be aware if there might be a potential problem with a child and fire?

“The case here was about more than this boy starting a fire,” Cain said. “But it’s important to look for an obsession with fire that’s above and beyond.”

It’s also important for kids to know to get help if they accidentally start a fire, and it gets out of hand.

“Some of these fires start with a child playing with something,” she said. “All of a sudden, it’s a fire getting out of control. Kids need to know they need to get to an adult.”

What next?

The boy’s decision to light a blanket on fire was a seemingly small act. But the consequences are many.

The boy’s third-grade class has been especially affected by his actions.

“The boy was very near and dear to them,” she said. “He’s no longer at this school. They write him, and they’ve totally forgiven him. They also realize the severity of what he did.”

A group called Peer Pals got flyers printed up a day after the fire to alert the community about the fire victims’ losses. The kids, with help from school officials and parents, were on hand at River Manor the weekend after the fire, passing out everything from beds to dining room sets, from clothes to food.

“You name it, we had it,” Cain said of the outpouring of support. “It was just before Christmas and right away, the kids started collected pennies for the fire victims. Their teacher, Amiee Gallagher, told me they just wanted to help.”

Cain said the school participated in a Fire Prevention Week earlier last fall, but actually seeing what happens when one of their classmates starts a fire has proved to be a true lesson.

“They talk about what they learned about fire, and have transferred that to this real life situation,” she said.

This month, the students’ work continues. They started another fund-raising campaign for the fire victims.

“They brainstormed, and came up with the idea of selling suckers,” Cain said. “The kids are doing all the work. They’ve created flyers, order forms and a cost per sucker: 25 cents.”

Besides building empathy and entrepreneurship, the fire has actually brought the school and the community of Parachute together, Cain said.

“It was a real good eye-opener,” she said. “The kids and local people have shown so much generosity to the victims. And the victims have been so gracious and appreciative.”

Something else positive has come from this tragedy. Cain said the fire victims are Hispanic, many of whom never felt welcomed.

“They said it made them sad they never felt the whites really accepted them,” Cain said. “After the fire, they feel accepted. They told me they were really overwhelmed. They lost everything, but they have each other, and a community that cares.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext 518

cclick@postindependent.com


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