Fire at newly acquired Colorado Springs apartments blamed on smoking near oxygen tank

May 16, 2014 Updated: May 16, 2014 at 8:25 pm

A person smoking near an oxygen tank caused a fire at the Santa Fe Apartments early Thursday - just three days after a nonprofit purchased the property for $2 million, officials said Friday.

Plywood remained over the windows of the Santa Fe Apartments' building C on Friday as the nonprofit's leaders consulted with insurance adjusters on how to repair the damage, which Colorado Springs Fire Department officials estimated at about $360,000 in lost property and belongings.

Greccio Housing had planned more than $500,000 in renovations for the facility when it purchased the complex on Monday. However, that estimate could rise in the coming days.

"The one apartment and the hallway is going to need some pretty significant rebuilding," said Lee Patke, Greccio's executive director.

The fire started around 3:30 a.m. Thursday, displacing everyone in the 18-unit building, Patke said. It tore through an apartment and caused smoke damage on the two-story building's lower floor. Firefighters also had to tear out adjacent units' walls to ensure the fire did not spread.

Sixteen of the units were occupied, and tenants in 10 of them were moved to other vacant Greccio units on Thursday. Three tenants stayed with family members and three were assisted by the American Red Cross' Pikes Peak chapter, according to a statement by Greccio.

On Friday, the housing organization paid for a plane ticket for one of the tenants helped by the Red Cross, allowing that person to move home to family in Washington, Patke said.

Earlier this week, Greccio hailed the 54-unit acquisition as a key step in offering more affordable housing to low-income residents. The purchase, which was made with the help of several governmental agencies, brought the nonprofit's housing stock to 487 units across 22 properties.

Patke hopes the nonprofit can begin renovating the complex in six to eight weeks, as originally planned.

Those upgrades included replacing single-pane windows throughout the complex with double-pane, energy-efficient windows, replacing carpet and countertops and installing security cameras.

In addition, the swimming pool will be replaced with a community garden and a playground, Patke said.

"This was a tragic event for them (tenants)," Patke said. "But ultimately, if it had to happen, we're glad it happened when we're on watch, because we know how to respond and support people in this kind of situation."

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