Local News

Careless smoking blamed for fire that displaced nearly two dozen people

Almost two dozen people displaced by fire

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Investigators announced Monday that careless smoking was behind a fire in an apartment building while two dozen people who were displaced by the fire tried to figure out what's next.

The fire broke out just after 10 p.m. on Sunday, October 7, 2013, at The Retreat at Austin Bluffs, near Austin Bluffs Parkway and Barnes Road.

No one was injured in the fire. There were 58 firefighters who put out the fire and were on standby to provide medical care in case anyone was hurt.

Fire investigators say cigarette butts were tossed into a planter on the third floor patio. The plant caught fire and the flames spread from there. The fire eventually spread to a 20 pound propane tank attached to a barbecue grill. The propane tank was not properly turned off, causing the fire to grow rapidly. Two small 2/12 pound propane tanks also caught fire, one of which exploded.

Almost two dozen people couldn't return home Monday as firefighters continued to monitor hot spots. Firefighters outside the building couldn't give an estimate on exactly when some residents would be allowed inside but said it could take several days. Residents living in certain apartments on the third floor may never get to go back inside their homes because the roof collapsed in some areas.

"It breaks my heart to see people hurting that are so close," said neighbor Andrea Bednar as she looked at the charred building early Monday morning. 

Jamie Cook and her son Austin Higginbottom learned about the fire in their building from a neighbor. He banged on their door. The two were asleep at the time and said the man saved their lives.

"As soon as I opened the door, everything was just orange," said Higginbottom. "I immediately ran inside, told my mom that there was a fire so she grabbed her purse, the dog and she ran out really quick."

Cook doesn't think anything was spared in the fire.

"I grabbed my dog and my kid and that was it. There was no time for anything.  The flames were so close," said Cook.  "Pictures, everything. I had everything, gone.

"I could hear the crackling of burning wood. They (the flames) were so close, they were right at the stairs," said Higginbottom.

Scott Gustad also wondered what would be left of his second story apartment.

"There is stuff in there that I don't want to lose, but it's all replaceable."

The Red Cross along with The Retreat at Austin Bluffs property management are assisting the 20 displaced residents with housing and recovery.

The fire started on the first day of Fire Prevention Week. It's a national campaign put on each year by the National Fire Protection Agency.

The theme of this year's campaign is how to prevent kitchen fires.

Firefighters at the Retreat at Austin Bluffs said the fire serves as a reminder to check batteries in your smoke alarm. Firefighters also stressed the importance of having an escape plan for your family as well as a place to meet away from your home or apartment.

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