Fire: a local history

January 16, 2007
Major fires are not common in Colorado Springs, but they have occurred sporadically — and often spectacularly. The city’s deadliest structure fire was March 4, 1991, when nine elderly women died in an early morning fire that raged through the Crystal Springs Estate retirement home in the 800 block of Hancock Avenue.
A 10th died months later of injuries. Fourteen other people were injured in the blaze, which was touched off when bone-dry wood was ignited by a hot furnace flue. It took 30 firefighters six hours to control the blaze, which caused $500,000 damage to the 35-room boarding house. The fire prompted city officials to enact a tougher ordinance that required 37 boarding homes, nursing homes and retirement centers to install sprinkler systems. Since then, the city requires sprinkler systems in any care facility licensed by the Colorado Department of Health. Other major fires: -- March 7, 2003: Three children were killed in a fire at their home in the 4100 block of Undimmed Circle off North Carefree Circle. The Nicholls children — Jay, 11, Sierra, 3 and Sophia, 5 — died of smoke inhalation in a fire that Colorado Springs firefighters determined was arson. Their father, Timothy Paul Nicholls was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the blaze and is awaiting trial. -- Dec. 12, 2002: A handful of businesses in the 2400 block of West Colorado Avenue were destroyed when a candle ignited a quick-moving blaze. Candles & Crafts, Old Town Glass, King’s Gallery of Collectables and Stillwaters furniture were destroyed, and Meadow Muffins bar and restaurant and the Michael Garman Galleries, which bookend the destroyed businesses, suffered smoke, water and fire damage. Producers Group Studio and Santa Fe Springs Art Gallery also were damaged. -- October 2002: The Chimney Ridge apartment complex on Twin Oaks Drive sustained $1 million in damage from a fire. -- June 2002: The Epernay Apartments on Woodland Hills Drive sustained $1.5 million in damage in a blaze. -- October 2000: Rocky Mountain Cycle Plaza on East Platte Avenue sustained $2 million in damage in a fire. -- May 3, 1997: An arson fire destroyed the Internal Revenue Service office in the Bell Tower office building at 2070 N. Academy Blvd. Three men later were arrested in connection with the fire, and two were found guilty in federal district court. Two others pleaded guilty to perjury for trying to provide an alibi for the suspects. -- May 23, 1993: An 83-year-old Colorado Springs woman died in a fire at a retirement center when she returned to her smoked-filled apartment to retrieve her cocker spaniel. Clara Spears was seen near a stairwell shortly after fire engulfed an apartment in one wing of the four-wing Winslow Court Retirement Community at 3920 E. San Miguel St. But officials believe she turned back to retrieve her dog, becoming the eighth person to die in a fire that year. Another resident accidentally started the blaze when her cigarette ignited the plastic hose leading from her oxygen tank. Five other elderly residents suffered smoke inhalation. The 9 a.m., $250,000 fire resulted in the evacuation of 33 people. -- Feb. 19, 1992: A two-hour fire caused an estimated $4 million in damage to the exclusive Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort. The lodge and its 48 rooms were closed and empty so workers could apply new stain to the wood exterior. No one was injured in the fire. -- June 18, 1990: Two Old Colorado City businesses and an apartment at 115-119 S. 26th St. were destroyed and more than $750,000 damage was sustained. -- Feb. 26, 1990: A fire at Rocky Mountain Metal Finishers, 3525 N. Cascade Ave., caused about $400,000 damage and put 30 employees of the metal-processing plant out of work temporarily. -- Jan. 23, 1990: Terrace Shops, Citadel East Drive. Nine businesses and four vacant stores were destroyed, and there was an estimated $4.8 million in damage. -- July 21, 1989: Citadel Village Apartments, 3400 Galley Road. The 20-unit complex next to The Citadel mall was destroyed, leaving about 30 residents homeless and causing an estimated $1 million damage. -- June 30, 1987: Five businesses sustained $750,000 in damage when a fire engulfed a retail center at 2300 N. Academy Blvd. -- Oct. 1, 1986: A 23-hour fire at the Red Tag propane gas plant, 215 Auburn Drive, caused $350,000 damage. -- June 25, 1982: A fire seriously damaged the contents of a large storage building at Hugh M. Woods building supply, 600 N. Murray Blvd., causing $500,000 damage. -- June 23, 1982: Oldach Building Supply, 212 Buchanan St., was destroyed by fire, a $2 million loss. -- March 25, 1982: A fire at the then-110-year-old Cliff House in Manitou Springs caused an estimated $1 million damage. HISTORIC FIRES IN THE REGION -- June 2002: A fire started by a Forest Service employee jumped a campfire ring near Florissant and roared northward through the Pike National Forest for weeks. The fire, called the Hayman, was the state’s largest recorded wildfire, burning more than 137,000 acres, destroying more than 300 buildings and causing more than $29 million in property damage. The woman responsible for the blaze, Terry Lynn Barton, was sentenced to prison. -- January 1952: Over a 24-hour period, the El Paso County Fire Department fights 18 fires, 16 of which were alongside the railroad tracks. Train smokestacks are blamed for the fires. -- Jan. 17, 1950: A wildfire fire started at noon on Camp Carson. Within 90 minutes, 20 buildings at the north end of the base were ablaze. The worst wildfire in El Paso County’s history claimed nine lives, injured 50 and destroyed 89 buildings worth more than $5 million at the post. Fanned by 50-70 mph winds, it burned a 50-square-mile area from the Army post up Cheyenne Mountain and to The Broadmoor hotel, which was saved by hundreds of firefighters. An early story that the fire was started during brush clearing at a new Broadmoor golf course is disputed by hotel officials. -- April 1948: 600 firefighters and soldiers from Camp Carson battle a five-hour blaze that sweeps through 1,500 wooded acres on Star Ranch south of Colorado Springs. The blaze threatens the ranch buildings, headquarters for Young Life, a nondenominational organization for teen-agers. Earlier that day, a suspected arson fire burned acreage on Camp Carson before jumping the highway to JL Ranch. Arson also was suspected in the Star Ranch fire. -- Fall 1898: A major fire engulfed three city blocks, including Pikes Peak Avenue, destroying the Antlers Hotel. The hotel, a major landmark in the young city, was not rebuilt until 1901. -- April 25, 1896: In a room above the Central Dance Hall in the heart of Cripple Creek’s red-light district, dancer Jennie LaRue heated a flatiron atop a gasoline stove. Her drunk boyfriend, Otto Floto, one of Spencer Penrose’s favorite bartenders, slapped LaRue and she charged him with a knife. Floto stumbled into the stove, knocked it over and set the room ablaze. Within minutes, the dance hall was a charred ruin. The fire destroyed 50 buildings, caused $1 million damages and left more than 3,000 people homeless. Four days later, an even worse fire leveled what was left of the town, causing another $1.25 million damage and leaving another 3,000 people homeless.
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