Aspen Fire, as paged

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Dec 11, 2002
BREAKING NEWS: Fire burns Castle Ridge apartments
by Catherine Lutz, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A swift-moving fire engulfed the 100 building of the Castle Ridge affordable housing apartments late Tuesday night, most likely causing a near total loss of the 10 rental units.

By early Wednesday morning Aspen police had evacuated or accounted for the estimated 17 residents of the building, and there were no known injuries, according to officer Terry Leitch, except for possibly a cat which Leitch said one of the firefighters was trying to rescuscitate.

Witnesses reported a wall of flames as high as 40 feet shooting up from the tin roof of the complex, and the intense heat of the fire felt in neighboring buildings.

Castle Ridge is privately owned and managed but is operated as local affordable housing.

The cause of the fire was unknown as of this writing, but it was reported at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night as starting on a second-floor rear balcony. About 20 firefighters and police officers responded from Aspen and Snowmass.

Leitch described the damage as “significant” while another first responder predicted a “total loss,” at least to the five second-floor apartments.

A resident of a neighboring building called 911 when he saw the flames after getting off the bus on his way home.

“When I got off the bus I saw this little flame and then it got bigger,” said Mark Skluzacek. “And trust me it spread really quick. By the time (the firefighters) got here it was across the roof.”

Skluzacek ran into the building, banging on people’s doors and telling them to get out, quite likely saving some lives, according to other witnesses who watched the the fire spread fast.

Leitch estimated he was in the building for less than one minute evacuating people, but he heard the fire in the ceiling and saw the building engulfed when he emerged.

Chris Hanstein, who lived in a second-floor studio on the opposite side of the building from where the fire started, said he didn’t know anything was amiss when he heard Skluzacek’s knock. He went outside and saw the fire, then was able to return twice for personal belongings before smelling smoke. A firefighter later emerged with $200 in cash that he hadn’t been able to grab.

One resident who did not give his name said he hadn’t heard any smoke alarms.

Others did not have time to take anything with them. With aid from Aspen Valley Hospital, the Red Cross set up a shelter in the hospital with beds, spare clothes and food, and will continue to help residents with basic needs, paperwork and any other next steps.

More than three hours after the first call visible flames were still being battled, and Leitch said firefighters would stay all night watching for “hot spots.” One particular area in the middle of the building kept flaring up no matter how much water was being doused on the spot.

Firefighters will investigate the cause today.
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