Aspen housing complex a total loss
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” A fire gutted the Castle Ridge Apartments in Aspen late Tuesday night and raged into the early morning Wednesday.
One cat perished from smoke inhalation, but all 17 residents escaped a fast-moving blaze that fire officials suspect broke out on the balcony of a second-floor unit in the 100 building of the complex at about 11:30 p.m.
Witnesses reported seeing flames as high as 40 feet and from as far away as the roundabout.
All 10 apartments in the building, one of eight apartment blocks in the Castle Ridge Apartments adjacent to Aspen Valley Hospital, were destroyed, fire officials said.
“I’m in disbelief,” Christina Monaco said Wednesday.
Monaco said she was asleep when she awoke to the smell of smoke coming from an adjacent apartment.
“I couldn’t see flames but it was just really bright,” she said.
She said she opened her bedroom door and her living room was thick with smoke, so she grabbed her cell phone and ran through the room out of the apartment.
“It just happened so quickly,” Monaco said.
Firefighters with the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department were on scene within minutes of the 911 call, but the blaze moved quickly, according to Rick Balentine, deputy fire chief.
With the help of a ladder truck from Snowmass Village, firefighters had the blaze under control by approximately 2 a.m., Balentine said.
Normally a heavy sleeper, Monaco, a hairdresser in Aspen, said she was grateful she was able to get out, but her 6-year-old cat, Gato, was not so lucky.
The feline was acting funny shortly after she went to bed at 11 p.m., Monaco said.
“I wonder if maybe he smelled something or knew something,” she said.
Firefighters retrieved the animal from the flames, but attempts to resuscitate failed.
Neighbors said the fire could have been worse without the help of Mark Skluzacek, a mason and longtime valley resident who lives in a neighboring building.
Skluzacek first spotted the balcony fire while walking home from the bus stop near the hospital.
“It looked like a little fire you’d see in a Weber grill when you first light it,” Skluzacek said. “Then I realized that it was a fire … All of the sudden I said, ‘I gotta do something.'”
He said he quickly dialed 911, then ran to alert neighbors.
“He is a hero,” said Maxine Jacobs, resident manager of the Castle Ridge Apartments. “He woke all of those people up. He raced over there and pounded on all of those doors. That man saved lives.”
Said Skluzacek: “If the doors were locked, I started pounding; if they came out I said, ‘Get out there’s a fire.’ I’m surprised there’s nobody dead. It was just a few seconds and then [the fire] went across the roof.”
He stopped when the smoke became too thick, he said.
Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven said the investigation is focused on the balcony of unit 107, but he does not expect criminal charges.
Grills are not allowed in the building, Van Walraven said.
The two residents of the apartment were home earlier in the evening watching basketball on television, but were reportedly out of the apartment at the time of the fire, Van Walraven said.
When reached for comment, one resident of the unit said he had no comment.
Families were not allowed back in the building on Wednesday and security guards were on scene to ensure no one entered.
The Red Cross set up an aid station in the nearby health and human services building.
The apartment complex, which is made up of eight buildings with 10 units each, was built by the city of Aspen in 1980, according to Jacobs. Currently, the complex is owned by a group of St. Louis attorneys and managed by Hill Management Co. of St. Ann, Mo.
There are no sprinklers in the building, and none of the tenants reported hearing any smoke alarms during the fire.
Officials with the Colorado Bureau of Investigations were assigned to the case and fire officials said they would have investigators and a dog on scene by Thursday morning.
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