Officials deem fire ‘suspicious’
RIFLE – The smell of charred wood lingered in the air and roofing shingles were strewn throughout the trees Wednesday morning, following a fire at the Rimrock Apartments in north Rifle on Tuesday afternoon.The cause of the fire is still under investigation and considered “suspicious,” according to local police and fire officials.”We’re still completing the investigation, but it appears to be probably not a natural cause,” said Rifle Police Chief Daryl Meisner.The fire allegedly started in a couch located outdoors on the side of one of the apartment buildings and moved up into the attic area.Rifle Fire Chief Mike Morgan, whose department is investigating the fire, did not speculate on the exact cause, but said that “arson has not been ruled out.”The blaze broke out shortly after 4 p.m. and was reportedly contained just after 5:30 p.m. Three families and a number of temporary drill workers occupied the eight units in the building. A total of about 32 people were displaced for the evening. The American Red Cross arrived on scene and assisted in finding housing for the fire victims for the evening.Battling the blaze
At least two witnesses who arrived on the scene of the fire said they were upset that no water was immediately dispensed on the fire.Tim Kaufman – who represents the owners of the apartment complex, B&B Western Investments – and Jim Handzus, the maintenance director for Rimrock Apartments, believed water should have been put on the fire earlier in the battle against the blaze.However, according to Morgan, both men apologized to him after the firefighting process was explained to them.”People don’t understand what’s going on – there’s a whole bunch of strategy and tactics happening,” he said.Morgan said the fire started on the outside of the building, then quickly spread to the eaves and up into the attic area.”We knocked out the fire on the outside right away and then began knocking on doors,” Morgan said. “At least one person was sleeping and we woke him up, beating on the doors.”The bottom line being to ensure that everyone is safe – both fire victims and firefighters alike.”If someone is going to get hurt or killed, we could care less about the building,” Morgan said.
No one was injured or killed. No pets were found, but firefighters did rescue a rabbit in a cage.After the fire spread to the attic, safety became a concern for the firefighters inside the structure.”After about 10 minutes of fire, the trusses start to fail,” Morgan said. “We have to check how long we’ve been in there because we’re going to lose the roof.”A personnel accountability system is used that involves emergency dispatch calling the firefighters to let them know every 10 minutes how long they have been in the burning building.”They called and said we were 19 minutes into it and there were 10-15 foot flames shooting through the roof,” Morgan said. “At that point, I called an all-clear and pulled everyone out. At that point, I can’t put any live bodies into that building.”Firefighters then began fighting the fire from aerial ladders outside of the building.When contained, two of the eight apartments in the building were deemed to be destroyed. Damage to the other six units are still being evaluated. There is no monetary damage estimate at this time.
Bad memories of previous fireTuesday’s fire brought back burning memories to Rifle emergency personnel and residents after two arson fires were set on Labor Day in September, 2005. Those fires destroyed the Rifle Fireside Lanes in north Rifle and the Amoco service station on Railroad Avenue at the entrance of town. The arsonists also made two other unsuccessful attempts to burn a Mexican restaurant and a condominium complex in north Rifle.No suspects have been arrested in connection with those fires.Meisner would not deny that his staff took the Labor Day fires into consideration when called out to the Rimrock fire.”I can’t say we weren’t thinking of the other fires,” he said. “Let’s just say we didn’t dispense all our people (to Rimrock).”But so far, Meisner said he is not seeing a connection between the Labor Day fires and the Rimrock fire.Following an investigation by the Rifle Fire Department, if the cause of the fire is determined to be arson or criminal, the Rifle Police Department will take the lead on the investigation.Those with any information are encouraged to call the Rifle Fire Department at 625-1243 or the Rifle Police Department at 625-2271.
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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.