Pueblo 2nd Alarm, as paged

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Dec 11, 2002
Midday fire threatens North Side restaurant
Firefighters could not determine the fire's ‘point of origin.'

A pile of wooden crates stacked near a well-known Pueblo eatery caught aflame Saturday afternoon, producing 60-foot flames and clouds of smoke that were visible for miles.

No injuries were reported in the 11:50 a.m. inferno at Colorado Moving and Storage, 3001 N. Freeway, according to Assistant Fire Chief Bill Nemick.

Arson was suspected as at least one witness saw a man, possibly a transient, near the pile of crates moments before the blaze.

"I watched the homeless guy walk away and, two minutes later, it all went up," said Chris Smith, a chef at Rosario's restaurant, located at 2930 Elizabeth St. The fire happened about 30 feet behind the restaurant in a fenced-in storage lot that abuts Rosario's property.

"Those crates have been stacked there for years," Smith said.

Nemick confirmed that a man was seen near the area before the fire, but said it may never be known whether the fire was intentionally started.

"We weren't able to identify a point of origin," Nemick said. "Unless police can track down a suspect, there's no way to know if it was arson or an accident. It's human-caused, I'm sure of that."

As of late Saturday no arrests had been made. No one was injured in the fire.

At its highest point, the fire produced flames about 60 feet tall, Nemick said, stalling traffic and drawing onlookers from across the city.

"I saw the smoke from my house and I live up on Lincoln (Avenue)," said Christie McKey, who was one of the many onlookers.

Nemick said the fire was contained in 45 minutes, but crews stayed on scene for several hours soaking the back property of Colorado Moving & Storage. Once it was safe, a large tractor was brought in to turn up the debris and snuff out remaining embers.

The wind complicated matters. The National Weather Service reported northeastern gusts between 30 and 45 mph during the fire.

"The wind was just whipping flames up and it was changing (the fire's) direction rapidly," Nemick said.

A section of Elizabeth Street, which is one of Pueblo's busiest arteries, was closed for about four hours while five companies of firefighters battled the blaze.

"It was just a bunch of wooden crates and a (semi)trailer that went up," said Richard Kennady, who said he's owned the moving company for eight years. "It didn't get any structures."

The fire also destroyed a pair of vehicles parked behind Rosario's. Smith said the vehicles belong to co-workers who earlier had left to Denver for a catering job.

"That's why we couldn't move them," Smith said of the cars.

Kennady said he's had problems with transients trespassing on his property in the past, but not recently.

Power was severed to businesses in the area during the fire. The tops of at least three power lines snapped and toppled in the aftermath.

One Rosario's employee who did not give his name, said the restaurant was scheduled to later Saturday host a wedding reception. He told a group of reporters that the restaurant would try and still host the party but his interview was cut short. An officer told the employee and the media that the building needed to be evacuated because another power pole had snapped.

Flames that reached as high as 60 feet with smoke visible for miles drew onlookers to the North Side fire scene.

"I thought, ‘God, what the hell blew up!’ When I got here, the flames were taller than those power poles. That whole thing was ablaze and you could just feel the heat. I don't know what was in there, but I could hear explosions," Jiron said.

Nemick confirmed there were explosions but what actually blew up was unknown.

Kennady said nothing of great value was stored in the trailer or in that end of the lot.

Pueblo police Sgt. Patrick Van Ryn said he knew of only one minor accident that occurred with no injuries while directing and rerouting traffic along Elizabeth and 29th Street.
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