Investigators: Apartment fire that displaced 8 people was caused by plumbing work

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - An apartment fire that displaced eight people last week was caused by plumbing work, according to investigators. 

The fire started around 6 a.m. Wednesday in an eight-unit apartment building on Monument Street, which is in the area of Platte Avenue and Circle Drive. A plumber told firefighters that he was sweating pipe in a bathroom when the insulation caught fire.

Firefighters said all of the residents and their pets were able to safely escape the building. No one was injured. 

Firefighters got the fire under control by 7 a.m., and stayed on the scene until around 9 a.m. They then released the building back to the owner so the restoration work could continue. 

Then, around noon, firefighters got a call about another fire at the same address. Firefighters saw smoke coming from a wall and determined the insulation was smouldering. They soaked the area with water, and the smoke and heat disappeared.

Then, around 8:30 p.m., firefighters got a call about another fire at the same address. When firefighters arrived, they determined several parts of the roof were on fire. They brought the fire under control by 11:30 p.m. 

Investigators determined that a hot spot or ember from the original fire had gone undetected, causing the fire to re-ignite.

CSFD released the following statement detailing their firefighting efforts: 

On January 9, 2018, at approximately 5:35 a.m., the Colorado Springs Fire Department responded to a report of a structure fire at 2460 E. Monument St. Dispatch informs responding companies that a plumbing contractor on the scene was sweating pipe in the bathroom of 2460 E. Monument when the insulation ignited. An effective fire fighting force was on scene within 6 minutes, and the two initially dispatched engines were on scene in less than 4 minutes.

Upon arrival, the first fire officer on scene noted a single story, a wood-framed, 8-unit apartment structure with smoke showing from the roof and the northwest side of the building. The building sits on the northwest corner of E. Monument Street and Yuma Street. The first arriving officer was able to confirm apartment 2460 as the origin apartment and that the fire was due to a plumber sweating pipe in a void space in the bathroom. The plumber stated that the insulation caught fire and extended vertically. Bystanders on scene indicated all residents and pets were out of the structure upon arrival. All eight apartments were searched and deemed all clear at 5:47 a.m.

Incident Command initiated an offensive fire attack and extinguished the main body of fire in 2460, but the fire had moved vertically into the attic and laterally through the party wall which serves as the main chase for electrical and plumbing for each unit. The party wall separates the eight apartments—four on the east and four on the west. Vertical ventilation holes totaling +-80 s.f. was opened to facilitate exposing active fire. Firefighters accessed the party wall in 2640, 2644, 706, and 708 with hand tools, and crews found and extinguished active fire at each location. Roof Operations directed hose-line crews interior to areas of flames and pressurized smoke producing at the roof level. The fire was deemed under control at 7:00 a.m. Fire crews were asked to stop overhaul at this time so as not to disrupt evidence for investigators before commencing final overhaul operations. Fire overhaul consisted of using thermal imaging cameras while crews made inspection holes in walls, ceilings, and roofs to inspect void spaces for active smoke and fire while applying firefighting foam to any “hot-spots” and previously burned areas within the structure. Temperature readings reported from the thermal imaging camera ranged from 70-80 degrees during the overhaul operation. All firefighting operations remained on the four northern apartments while the south end apartments remained intact with light to moderate smoke infiltration.

Investigators remained on scene with ownership, and the owner hired restoration company until 9:03 a.m. The property was subsequently released to the owner so restoration work could resume. The property was deemed untenable, and eight people were displaced and assisted by the American Red Cross on the scene. All pets were accounted for and had been given safe refuge in a resident’s automobile on the west side resident's parking lot.

Response 2:

CSFD crews responded to a report of a structure fire at the same address on E. Monument at approximately 12:00 p.m. Upon arrival; the company officer noted light smoke coming from the wall in 2460 where overhaul operations had previously taken place. The officer directed the crew to continue overhaul in this area which included taking down cabinetry and removing drywall until “clean” (unburned) wood was identifiable 360 degrees around the smoldering area. Water was used to soak the affected area where insulation was smoldering. The fire crew on the scene was unable to locate smoke visually and identified no unusual heat signature with the thermal imaging camera. The company officer relayed the findings and actions taken to the Battalion Chief on the scene who agreed with actions taken. No active fire was seen and after overhaul and wetting the affected area there was no sign of smoke interior or exterior.

Response 3:

At approximately 8:30 p.m. on January 9, 2018, the CSFD was, again, dispatched to a report of a structure fire in the area of E. Monument Street and Yuma Street. En route, crews confirm that the structure fire at the same address as the two previous calls for service at 2460 E. Monument. Upon arrival, a large volume of smoke is present over the entire roof area but, no flames visualized. The incident commander initiated an offensive fire attack and assigned a roof division to start opening up the roof over the south-end apartments. Crews, again, gained entrance and began to remove drywall from the ceilings, walls and the party wall in coordination with the roof operations.

The fire grew to a second alarm as the structure began to reveal more fire and smoke due to entraining fresh air into the fire from systematic removal of the roof from above and drywall from below. The actions revealed fire in many different locations throughout the roof. The incident commander declared fire under control at 11:33 p.m.

There were no injuries to civilians, pets or the +- 60 firefighters who engaged in the firefight. Investigators were called out to the scene, and after a second investigation of the fire area, the fire was deemed a “re-kindle” event. A re-kindle means the original structure fire had an existing hot spot/ember in a void space that was not identified and extinguished by firefighters on scene and thus the fire reignited.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department prides itself on being a professional fire department that extinguishes fires thoroughly while remaining cognizant of the needed balance between overhaul and property preservation. The affected structure was built in 1967 and has unique or atypical design and construction features. For example, the insulation remains wool with paper backing on both sides, its roof combined flat and peaked portions with vaulted ceilings interior in four of the eight apartments. The party wall at this structure extends the entire length of the building from north to south which is used as a pipe chase both horizontally and vertically. There is no fire blocking or fire stops built into the party wall which resembles balloon frame construction and a 90’x16’x6” void space in the heart of the building creating difficult access for firefighters.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department wants to express to the residents and the owner of the affected property that it worked diligently to extinguish the fire at this location. More importantly, the CSFD appreciates what this means for all of the residents and the owner: loss of home, property, personal effects, and the time out of your life it will take to put the pieces back together in the proper order. The CSFD is a professional firefighting organization with the vision of excellence in our eye each time we have the privilege of serving our citizens in the City of Colorado Springs.

The CSFD Training Division will be creating a learning opportunity for all CSFD line personnel as it pertains to building construction and void space fires.

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