A three-alarm apartment fire that displaced more than 30 people Saturday night was caused by food left on a stove, according to the Colorado Springs Fire Department.
“They were just cooking their dinner and ran out to get some other items from the grocery store,” said Sunny Smaldino, a fire department spokeswoman. When they got back, she said, they found their 14-unit building in flames.
On Sunday morning, smoke was still wafting in the air from the charred building and yellow crime scene tape warned residents to stay away.
Residents were lucky that the quick-spreading fire was not deadly, said Lt. Mike Smaldino, of the fire department.
“If this fire were at 2 a.m. the possibility would have been higher of injury or possibly death,” he said.
Mike Smaldino said firefighters were at the scene of the 7:30 p.m. fire in less than three minutes and, by the time they arrived, six apartments had a fully-involved fire.
“I was surprised by the amount of fire there was,” he said. The fire may have spread faster because the building was older, which meant it was constructed with older, and more dry, wood and because there were no sprinkler systems in the building. Since the building was built before sprinklers were part of fire codes, it was not required to have them, he said. Buildings are only required to be up-to-date on fire codes for the year they are built or remodeled.
He said the damage might have been the same even with sprinklers.
“Sprinklers are designed to keep the fire in check, they’re not designed to put it out,” he said. “In some cases, they can get overwhelmed quickly. Which probably would have happened here.”
Sunny Smaldino said the residents of the 14-unit building will continue to be displaced. Not all of the units were severely damaged but utilities have been cut off from the building, making it uninhabitable. On Saturday night, residents stayed with friends and were also given empty apartments in the complex to stay at, Smaldino said.