More than 100 tenants of a senior living apartment building damaged by a fire last month won’t be allowed to return home until August, in part because of concerns about asbestos.
Residents of the Regency Tower Apartments, at 921 Green Star Drive in southwest Colorado Springs, received the unwelcome news at a meeting with fire officials and contractors Wednesday outside the high-rise for adults 55 years and older.
The four-alarm blaze May 24 started about 11:30 a.m. on the 10th floor of the 11-story apartment building. The tenants were safely evacuated, some by ladder.
However, Darlyne Justesen, 89, one of two residents hospitalized for smoke inhalation, died a few days later.
Lisa Brown, who moved into Regency Tower in January, said the fire and now the monthslong wait to get back into her apartment has been an ordeal.
“I think I’m going to have to move out but finding an affordable apartment is going to be impossible,” she said Wednesday. “I don’t know if I can go back in there, emotionally.”
Two of her cats died in the fire that damaged her 11th-floor apartment. A third cat is being treated at an animal hospital and is expected to recover.
“He’ll be looking for his buddies. I’m taking one step at a time,” Brown said. “I had a fire escape plan and how I’d get my cats out with me, but I was at work when I found out about the fire.”
“You’ll never think it’ll be you,” Brown said.
Some residents expressed appreciation for the building’s managers even after being told they wouldn’t be allowed back home.
“This is the best place,” said Chris Mitchell, who along with her husband, Richard, has lived at the Regency for seven years.
“It looks like we’ll be camping for two months now,” said Richard Mitchell, noting the couple will stay in their motor home.
Residents will not have access to the building for at least two months, said Chris Weston, project manager for Colorado Premier Restoration , which is in charge of repair and inspection the work.
Weston told residents that the repairs will take time — the top two floors were contaminated by airborne asbestos.
Asbestos, linked to cancers including lung cancer, was commonly used to fire-proof structures from the late 1800s until it was banned in 1989 by the Environmental Protection Agency. Asbestos “popcorn” ceilings and flooring were installed when the Regency was built in 1965.
To help residents cope, State Farm, the building’s insurance provider, and the Red Cross, which has helped to house those who had nowhere to stay, had information booths Wednesday.
Building managers said residents who want to move won’t be charged for breaking their lease.
Some residents will be allowed to retrieve belongings before asbestos-removal work begins June 14. That does not include residents of the top two floors, however, where the damage and contamination was the most extensive.
As contractors begin their work, fire investigators are still investigating the cause. Despite “an extensive physical evidence investigation” and witness interviews, Fire Department investigators haven’t determined the cause.
Arson is not suspected.