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Fire leaves locals homeless

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

An urgent pounding on the door and shouts of “fire!” had residents of the Aspen View condos fleeing their homes early Monday with little more than the clothes they were wearing or the bathrobes they grabbed on the way out.

No one was hurt, though flames were shooting from the upper floor of the three-story building at 326 Midland Ave. when Aspen firefighters arrived shortly after receiving the call at 4:36 a.m. The heat had blown out some of the windows, according to Fire Chief Darryl Grob.

It apparently started on a third-floor balcony and moved inside the building.

Firefighters knocked down the initial flames, but the fire flared back up when they cut through the metal roof, feeding fresh oxygen to the blaze. Crews used carbide-toothed saws to break through the roof.

“Metal roofs are always a problem,” Grob said. “If you’re trying to access the attic space, it’s difficult to get through.”

Thick, yellowish smoke blanketed the east side of town in the windless predawn hours and left the scent of smoke lingering over much of Aspen well into the morning.

“I thought that I heard a bear or something, and when I looked out the window, I saw this mist,” said Aspen View resident Fred Thiemer. “It looked like a big fog. Then I smelled smoke and called 911.”

Like his neighbors, he left everything behind and was anxiously watching the blaze from a position across the street.

Matthew Draper, who’d moved into the building just two days earlier, was awakened by someone pounding on the window of his garden-level unit.

“I just ignored it, but the second time, I heard someone pounding on the front door yelling `fire,'” he said.

Ron Ibara was similarly awakened.

Aspen Police Officer Roderick O’Connor, among the first on the scene, said he went into the building and began pounding on doors in the interior corridors.

“People were already leaving the building when I got here,” he said. “People are running out, but I’m knocking on doors. There were people still in there going, `What’s going on? What’s up?'”

He found Madeleine Osberger and Rick Low still inside their condo and ordered them to vacate the building immediately. They sat with their 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Madison, in their Isuzu Trooper out on the street and watched the windows of their third-floor unit, where the lights were still on.

They were forced to leave the family’s cat behind in the quick exit.

“There wasn’t time to do anything,” Osberger said. “It spread so fast. We grabbed the kid and got out.”

O’Connor later assured them he’d left all the doors open, so their cat could escape if need be.

On the street, several residents were grumbling about the pricey fire alarm system the condo association had paid to install throughout the building. It has been activated a number of times in what turned out to be false alarms, but wasn’t triggered by yesterday’s blaze, they said.

“It always goes off. When we finally have a fire, it doesn’t go off,” Thiemer fumed.

The fire apparently started on an outside, third-floor balcony in the middle of the building, according to Aspen Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven.

There was a propane-fueled grill on the balcony, but no cause of the blaze had been firmly established by midafternoon Monday.

“We’ve pretty much ruled out anything suspicious,” he said.

Residents of the 18-unit building were allowed back into their condos to claim personal effects after the fire was extinguished, but they will be bunking with friends or relatives for some time to come.

Although only two of the units suffered actual fire damage, the entire building will be uninhabitable for some period, Grob said. There is smoke and/or water damage throughout the building.

The American Red Cross was called to aid the residents, he said. A temporary shelter was set up in Aspen yesterday, but closed at 6 p.m. last night after everyone had found other places to stay. Anyone needing further assistance should call the Glenwood Springs office at 947-0400, a spokeswoman said.

Although the condos are free-market units, the building housed local workers who either owned a unit or rented one there.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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