Fire ravages East Vail condos
Most residents were sleeping when, around 12:25 a.m, thick, black smoke began filling apartments in the three-story Windstream Condominiums at 4295 Columbine Drive.
“I think I was one of the first ones awake. I ran outside, called 911 and then started banging on doors,” said resident Paula Barclay, who lives on the top floor. “For a while, there was just black smoke. Then they cut a hole in the roof and a big ball of flame came out.”
Residents said firefighters from the nearby East Vail station arrived at the fire in a “flash.” Residents stood stunned in the parking lot late into the morning as firefighters put out the blaze, which sent smoke and flames billowing into the sky above East Vail.
“It was a very complex fire for us because it was between the walls. We couldn’t really get to it or know where the seat of the fire was until it came out the roof,” Vail Fire Chief John Gulick said. “It turned out there was fire on all three levels.”
Overhead powerlines restricted firefighters to using only one ladder truck. But firefighters got an edge on the blaze when they cut a hole in the metal roof to ventilate the fire.
“The fire was drawn out the hole,” Gulick said.
The fire was contained by 3 a.m.
“We were really lucky somebody pounded on doors and got people out,” Gulick said. “The occupants beat on doors and woke people up and people were out by the time we got there.”
A special bus picked up the displaced residents around 3:30 a.m. and drove them anywhere they wanted to go.
The cause of the fire, which may have done $1 million worth of damage, is still under investigation. It doesn’t appear suspicious or to be set on purpose, Gulick said.
A Vail firefighter was treated for an eye injury by Eagle County Ambulance District paramedics during the fire. Sixteen people were evacuated but no one else was injured, Gulick said.
Six of the apartments were extensively damaged. Another 11 condos suffered smoke and water damage. What was left Thursday was a badly charred and mangled roof, scorched walls and melted bedrooms.
But firefighters worked hard to protect what property they could, and they were still at the complex Thursday afternoon retrieving clothes, laptops, guitars and other belongings for residents, who hadn’t been allowed back into their apartments.
Tearful residents watched as melted backpacks and charred photo albums were brought from the ravaged condos. Firefighters had to tell some residents that closets and dressers were completely destroyed.
“There are bits and pieces. They’re pretty charred. One piece of furniture is salvageable,” first floor resident Bonnie MacDonald said as she stood over a smattering of burnt boxes in the complex parking lot.
“My room isn’t too bad, but her room’s destroyed,” said McDonald’s brother Scott.
Friends of other residents carried boxes and garbage bags full of clothes to pickup trucks.
“The firefighters went into the units that were suffering water damage and they salvaged personal belonging,” Gulick said. “They do things like that to protect it. They are things that people can save.”
Residents will be allowed back inside their apartments when a structural engineer declares the building safe. That could happen within a few days, Gulick said.
Fire marshals from the Vail Fire Department and the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District are investigating the cause.
Fire crews from throughout Eagle County assisted in putting out the fire, including a squad truck from the Minturn Fire Department, two engines from the Eagle River Fire Department, a ladder truck from the Greater Eagle Fire Department and an engine from the Gypsum Fire Department.
The Vail Fire Department sent three engines and two ladder trucks.
Vail police assisted with traffic control.
“I smelled smoke. It started getting foggy in my apartment and I thought it was strange for someone to be cooking so late,” said resident Leigh Bernstein. “Then I looked out my door, I saw flames and saw people yelling and running around with fire extinguishers.
“I grabbed my shoes, jacket, keys and left,” she said.
The American Red Cross is assisting the displaced residents. Anyone wishing to offer assistance should call the agency at (970) 242-4851 in Grand Junction.
Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at email@example.com.