Fire singes Avon strip mall |

Fire singes Avon strip mall

Matt Zalaznick
A smoky fire Thursday night did minor damage to Gotthelf's jewelry shop at the Benchmark Shopping Center in Avon.

An obnoxious stench appears to be the worse damage done by a small but very smoky fire at an Avon strip mall Thursday night.

A tarp smoldered for hours inside Gotthelf’s jewelry workshop at the Benchmark Shopping Center, eventually sending thick smoke pouring out of the building, said jeweler Dave Clayson.

Despite the heavy smoke, there were few flames, he said.

“It wasn’t even one bucket of water,” Clayson. “But any later and it could’ve been devastating.”

Heavy smoke was already spewing from the building’s vents when firefighters arrived around 8:30 p.m., said Kathy Warren, spokeswoman for the Eagle River Fire Protection District.

But finding where the fire was burning proved difficult because there were few flames, she said.

As a precaution, firefighters cleared all the diners out of nearby Pazzo’s restaurant, Warren said.

Firefighters finally found flames inside Gotthelf’s with the help of a high-tech thermal imaging camera, which detected a pocket of intense heat inside the jewelry shop, said Eagle River Fire Lt. George Wilson, the commander at the fire.

Wilson said the camera helped crews put the fire out a lot quicker. It also prevented crew from having to knock out more doors and windows, he said.

“The door to Gotthelf’s was hot to the touch and we knew we had found our source,” Wilson said.

When firefighters entered the shop, they found a smoldering fire and foot-high flames burning up the front of a wooden storage cabinet just inside the front door. The fire was controlled by 11 p.m., Warren said.

Eagle River Fire investigator Chuck House said the fire may have been

caused by a contractor working on an air conditioner.

“He was brazing copper and may have accidentally dropped hot materials on a drop cloth he laid down to protect carpeting,” House said. “He rolled the drop cloth up not realizing anything may have dropped down on it.”

The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

Along with Eagle River Fire, crews from Vail, Gypsum and the Greater Eagle Fire District responded to the fire.

Though damage was minimal, the smoke also poured into surrounding stores, like Wishes, a toy store on the opposite side of the strip mall.

“We’re open and going,” toy store employee Amanda Huntoon said. “We just have to keep all the doors open.”

Gotthelf’s was closed Friday but will reopen Monday, Clayson said.

“It’s just a matter of cleaning up,” he said.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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