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Residents, business owners thank firefighters

Amanda Holt MillerWestern Garfield County Staff

Kathy Willey said she would rather not work alone at the Kum & Go near the corner of Highway 6 and Railroad Avenue Monday night. “Not if the people who started these fires are still on the loose,” Willey said.Rifle police chief Daryl Meisner suggested, at a press conference Monday afternoon, that business owners take extra precautions as authorities have not yet found the person or people responsible for three suspected arson fires and one suspected arson attempt early Monday morning.The Kum & Go, where Willey works, is right next door to the charred remains of the Rifle Amoco station. The other fires were at Fireside Lanes bowling ally north of Rifle on Highway 13 and a partially constructed condominium complex at 26th Street and Meadow Circle. Mi Hacienda, on Whiteriver Avenue, displayed evidence of an arson attempt, Meisner said.No one was injured. All of the buildings were empty when the fires were reported.”That’s the one comforting thing,” Willey said. “All of those places were empty.”The Kum & Go is a 24-hour station and has customers throughout the night and early morning. Lynn Atchley is the general manager there. She said she was called to come to the station and make sure the gas pumps were turned off at 5:30 a.m. She wasn’t allowed back into the store until almost 10:30 a.m.”I can’t believe our building is still standing,” Atchley said. “Those firefighters were great. Flames were hitting the side of our building. Those guys got the fire out right away. They are great.”Rifle fire chief Mike Morgan thanked the community for the support it’s shown the firefighters. He said neighbors have given firefighters food and water and thanked them for their work.Rhonda Bartucco donated Krispy Kreme doughnuts to the firefighters who were filling their water trucks to fight the fire at Fireside Lanes. She is the general manager at the Kum and Go on 26th Street at the north end of town.When the power went out, she had to close the doors and shut down for a while. She lit candles in the gas station in order to see.”It gets pretty dark in here,” Bartucco said, laughing.She was full of praise for the firefighters and said she would have been happy to give them whatever they needed.Hal Templeton woke to the sound of sirens and the smell of smoke in the early morning Monday. He lives on 26th Street across from the condominium complex.”I’ve been up since before it was light out because of the fire engines, and they were loading up their water trucks. We were without power. I drove over to Starbucks and saw that the Amoco burned. I’ve seen a lot of Rifle’s finest and Garfield County’s. I’ve just been trying to figure it out,” Templeton said. “There were a lot of firemen out here. I just said ‘thank you’; I didn’t want to ask.”Meisner and Morgan said they have never seen an event of this magnitude in Rifle in their 30- and 20-year tenures, respectively.A task force was assembled Monday morning to investigate the fires. The Colorado Bureau of Investigators, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department, the Rifle Police and the FBI are all working together on the case.Because locals reported suspicious activity and there was an increased police presence in Rifle Monday, Meisner said the department made a number of unrelated warrant arrests of “some pretty serious felons.”Meisner said there were no suspects as of Monday afternoon. He said there will be increased police surveillance at night. He also urged people to report anything out of the ordinary, no matter how small a detail it may seem.”We would rather check 10 things that are nothing than miss one,” Meisner said. “Vigilance is the word.”Contact Amanda Holt Miller: 625-3245, ext. 103ahmiller@postindependent.com


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