Condo fire cause sought
GSPI News Editor
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A determination is expected to be made today regarding the cause of a Saturday night fire that damaged three units at the Sunset Ridge Condominiums and forced 12 units to be evacuated for the night.
The fire apparently began in a vacant upstairs unit of the West Glenwood condos, then spread downstairs to a second unit. No one was injured in the blaze.
Structural damage caused by the fire made it more difficult for firefighters to combat. Also, the condos lack sprinkler units, which Glenwood Fire Chief Mike Piper said probably would have extinguished the blaze while it was small.
The fire was reported around 9:44 p.m. Firefighters arrived within five minutes to find visible flames from the upstairs, third-floor unit, according to a news release from the fire department.
Carmen Galinat, who lives elsewhere in the condos, first spotted the fire and called 911. She then went to neighboring condos to help alert residents and get them out.
One of those residents was on oxygen, following a motorcycle accident. Galinat assisted him and his family, who had smelled smoke but hadn’t seen the fire.
“Then we banged on doors as we were coming down,” she said.
She said one resident apparently was sleeping and didn’t hear their knocks, and didn’t emerge for another 10 or 15 minutes.
Arriving firefighters first extinguished a small fire in a second-floor unit where the fire had spread. They then got a hose up to the third floor, but the fire grew and ignited an entryway next to the common stairway. They knocked that fire down before gaining access to the main fire on the third floor.
Upon arriving, however, they discovered a large void in the living area floor that made access unsafe for firefighters. They extinguished the blaze while working from the front door and from the third-floor landing of the stairway.
The upper unit suffered heavy smoke, fire and water damage. The lower unit sustained moderate smoke damage and light fire damage. An adjacent-third-floor condo received only smoke damage, and no other units were significantly damaged.
The fire created a late-night spectacle for adjacent condo owners, patrons of nearby restaurants and others in West Glenwood. They watched the lit-up condo complex from a distance while firefighters cleaned up after the blaze, cooling down hot spots and tossing charred furniture and other belongings to the ground.
Firefighters were on the scene for almost seven hours.
Utilities were shut off to 12 units, forcing the evacuations. The American Red Cross set up an aid station on the scene to assist evacuees and firefighters. Workers handed out food and checked to see whether the evacuees had other places to stay. All but one did; the Red Cross placed that person in a hotel for the night.
Condo resident Peggy Hoffius was one of those whom Red Cross workers assisted.
“I’m surprised to see them here,” said Hoffius.
The fire didn’t reach her unit, but she was still visibly shaken after it had been extinguished.
Mike Alsdorf, branch disaster coordinator for the Red Cross, said utilities had been restored to all but the three damaged units Sunday and all other residents had been able to return.
The names of the owners of the three units weren’t available from the fire department over the weekend. But Terri Knob, who manages the condos, said one of the burned units belonged to Scott Henderson.
Galinat said the fire was a bit scary, coming just days after a minor porch fire earlier in the week at another Sunset Ridge unit. That one was caused by a cigarette that ignited a plant pot.
A nursing student, Galinat acted on her training Saturday. She recently had taken a test in which one of the questions asked what to do first in the case of a fire.
“You evacuate the client,” she said.
Piper said the condos aren’t required to have sprinklers because they are divided and have firewalls and alarm systems.
The firewalls appeared to have done their job at Sunset Ridge, he said.
“If that had common areas and voids it would have just raced across all of them,” he said.
Still, he said, sprinklers probably would have resulted in the condos suffering little other than water damage Saturday.
He said mandatory sprinklers would be a big help for a small department like his. In a fire like Saturday’s, at least 15 people were needed, but only five were immediately available to respond, he said. Additional crews were called in from neighboring fire departments, slowing the response.
“It’s going to take time, and the fire’s moving fast,” he said.
Ideally, he said, Glenwood would have an ordinance that would require even retroactive installation of fire sprinklers.
But he acknowledged that this would be highly expensive.
For now, he said, “Some builders know the code and know that they don’t have to (install sprinklers) if they put in different things.”
One of Glenwood’s historic buildings, the Hotel Colorado, has a system installed by the Navy in the middle of the 20th century when the hotel was used as a convalescent hospital.
Last year, the system proved its worth when someone lit a fire in the hotel, he said.
“We had a lot of water damage but the building’s still standing. The sprinkler system did its job.”
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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