Basalt apartment complex potentially closed for weeks after water pipe collapses | AspenTimes.com

Basalt apartment complex potentially closed for weeks after water pipe collapses

Residents of the new Roaring Fork Apartments in Basalt could be displaced for weeks after a water line for the sprinkler system fell from the first floor ceiling and broke Tuesday, according to Basalt Fire Department officials.

The apartments in the first floor suffered extensive water damage while the lobby and part of the hallway were covered with sheetrock and other debris after a 6-inch-diameter line for the fire-suppression system collapsed.

"There is significant damage to all first-floor residences," said Richard Cornelius, division chief with Basalt Fire Department. "There is no damage to the second-, third- and fourth-floor residences.

"This building is uninhabitable right now," he said.

An estimated 77 people were displaced by the incident, according to the Fire Department. Roaring Fork Apartments is just off Highway 82 on the east side of Stubbies bar and restaurant. There are 45 one-bedroom and 11 two-bedroom apartments. RealAmerica LLC., an Indianapolis firm that specializes in affordable housing, opened the complex in June.

Robin Weybright, the company president and CEO, said Tuesday she couldn't shed any light on the disaster. She was hoping to learn more in coming days from Fire Department and building officials. Basalt-Snowmass Village Fire Marshal John Mele and Basalt building inspector Jim Wilson were on the scene Tuesday afternoon.

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The Fire Department declined to release information on the suspected cause of the water line collapse. The fire-suppression system was being worked on earlier in the day, according to Kim Stallone, manager of the apartment complex.
Weybright said her insurance company planned to have examiners on the scene Tuesday.

The silver lining, she said, is no one was injured.

Cornelius said it could be weeks before the apartment complex is habitable due to the repair of the water damage, the restoration of the fire-suppression system and an assessment of the structural integrity.

The Red Cross established an evacuation center Tuesday at the Basalt Regional Library. An overnight shelter was opened at Basalt High School's auxiliary gym from 7:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The Fire Department urged all residents to register at the evacuation center. Firefighters were escorting residents who needed to retrieve medication or pets into their units.

Town Manager Ryan Mahoney was at the evacuation center Tuesday afternoon and said 17 people had registered as of 3 p.m.

"So far everybody's had a place to stay except for one," Mahoney said.

Emergency responders were paged to the apartment complex at about noon Tuesday for what was reported to be a water flow issue. Cornelius said firefighters found a much more severe problem.

"It looks like a war zone in there," Basalt-Snowmass Village fire chief Scott Thompson said at the site. "The whole ceiling is collapsed all the way down (the hallway)."

The water pipe was on the ground and water poured from the first floor doors, electrical wiring was cut and exposed and the alarm system was wailing. A handful of dazed residents were hanging out in front of the complex or in vehicles.

"I've never seen anything like it," Cornelius said.

The first step for firefighters was to cut utilities to the complex — water, electricity and gas — to ensure safety. Firefighters then made a sweep of the first floor to make sure no one was trapped beneath the pipe and rubble. There were no injuries.

They also swept the upper stories of the complex looking for residents or pets.

A resident who had evacuated said he heard a loud noise without warning. Soon, water was swamping the entire first floor. Other residents in front of the complex declined to comment.

Stallone, the manager of the apartment complex, said she had just walked into her first-floor office near the main entrance when she heard an enormous crashing sound.

"Two seconds later the pipe fell," she said.
She felt lucky to escape injury because the heavy pipe fell right outside her doorway.

"Thank God no one was hurt," Stallone said. "That's all that matters right now."

It appeared that only a handful of residents were home at the time of the incident. More came rushing to the scene as word filtered out. Some were distraught about how their dogs were handling the commotion. Officials expected another wave of residents to seek access once they got off work.

The evacuation center will open at Basalt Town Hall on Wednesday at 7 a.m.

The shelter at Basalt High School doesn't allow pets. Aspen Animal Shelter arranged to remain open until 8 p.m. Tuesday to accept animals.

scondon@aspentimes.com