CBI tries to smoke out arson clues
A fire Tuesday night that displaced 74 residents at the River Manor Apartments in Parachute is under investigation for possible arson by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
No injuries resulted from the fire.
Jerry Means of CBI’s Denver bureau brought an arson dog and a crew of investigators to Parachute on Wednesday following a fire that destroyed three apartment units, caused severe fire damage to another three, and forced evacuation of an entire 24-unit apartment building.
Parachute police chief Dave Higuera and fire chief David Blair did not return phone calls for comment.
River Manor Apartments is a complex of eight three-story apartment buildings on Colorado Avenue on the south side of Interstate 70 opposite downtown Parachute. Residents living in Building 2’s 24 units, where the blaze broke out, were evacuated.
Glenwood Springs fire chief Mike Piper said small fire departments like Parachute’s typically call in the CBI when there’s a question of how a fire started. But he said the CBI’s appearance at the scene of a fire doesn’t mean foul play is involved.
“Most small fire departments don’t have full-time fire investigators,” said Piper. “Arson fire investigation is an exact science. It’s a good idea to bring CBI in if there’s any question about how a fire started.”
Initial reports were that a table lamp in a second-floor unit started the fire.
John Bear, American Red Cross assistant emergency services director from Grand Junction, was on the scene Wednesday and said he spoke with a woman who was living in the apartment. He said by the time she ran to get a fire extinguisher, the apartment was engulfed in flames.
Bear said a contractor is using a soaker cleaning system to clear smoke residue from 18 apartments that experienced minor smoke damage. Residents are staying at the Super-8 Motel in Parachute, and will be able to return to their homes by Friday. The residents who lived in the six severely damaged or destroyed units will be moved to vacant apartments in other buildings in the complex.
“By this weekend, everyone will have a place to live,” said Bear.
The Red Cross is working with LIFT-UP and Colorado West Mental Health Services to counsel victims and provide clothing and other belongings to those who lost their possessions in the fire. LIFT-UP is taking donations and Alpine Bank has set up a monetary fund for victims.
“It was a little tough today, because most of the victims are non-English-speaking Hispanics,” Bear said. Two of the 11 Red Cross volunteers working with the fire victims are bilingual, which has helped in communication efforts.
Bear said it was extraordinary to see how well Parachute dealt with the fire.
“There was a 13-unit apartment house fire in Grand Junction last summer,” he said. “The whole building was lost. I give big credit to this fire department for their quick response. They isolated the fire and contained it. They put people first.”
Parachute Mayor John Loschke was thankful no one was injured and was proud of the fire department’s response.
“I want to throw credit where it’s due,” said Loschke of the Grand Valley Fire Protection District staff’s quick response to the blaze. “We’re very proud of our fire and EMT departments.”
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.