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Local fire departments reflect on Oakland warehouse fire

Pueblo had two similar fires recently

Local Fire Departments Reflect on...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Southern Colorado has had three major building fires in the past 10 years but nothing as tragic as the Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36 people.

Firefighters in Colorado Springs and Pueblo said Monday that they're ready to respond to such a fire but rely on building owners to obey fire codes.
"If someone reports a violation at a home, we'll check it out," said Brett Lacey, fire marshal for Colorado Springs.  "But our primary concern is commercial structures at a high level of risk." 

Pueblo Fire Chief Shawn Shelton said the city has a warehouse with a layout similar to the Oakland warehouse.

"Warehouses are buildings of concern, especially if they don't have sprinklers or alarms," he said.  "Those large, open spaces allow opportunity for fire to grow rather rapidly."

Pueblo has had two warehouse fires recently: the Midwest Fabrication and Steel building in March 2015; and the century-old Alpha Beta meat-packing plant on New Year's Eve of 2012.

The MFS building was converted to office space before the fire. 

Meanwhile in Colorado Springs, the worst recent fire was at the Castle West apartment complex in January 2007. 

It was started with gasoline by the ex-boyfriend of a resident, killed two people and destroyed much of the complex.

Investigators said a third of the complex's smoke detectors were not working or had dead batteries at the time of the fire, and Castle West was built in 1967, three years before the city required fire codes.

Pueblo has two full-time fire inspectors and a group of firefighters who inspect around 1,200 commercial buildings annually.

"We have about 3,600 in the city so we get to all of them every two or three years," Shelton said.

Colorado Springs has eight full-time inspectors responsible for checking an estimated 25,000 commercial structures.

"When you add scheduled inspections, emergency inspections and complaints from people asking for inspections, we only get to half (of the 25,000) every year," Lacey said.

Firefighters target five requirements in an inspection: do sprinklers and other fire suppression systems work; do alarms work; have regular fire drills been conducted; are exits blocked; and has the use of the building changed.

Lacey said firefighters make saving lives and extinguishing fires their highest priorities.

"We'll send additional resources to bars, restaurants, apartments, anywhere that large numbers of people gather," he said.

"After that, we'll look at whether a building has hazardous or flammable materials and presents a greater danger."

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