A 93-year-old man was one of two people to go to the hospital with minor injuries caused by a Feb. 1 fire at Club Valencia, a condominium building just outside of east Denver.
Thanks to the quick response efforts of an Arapahoe County deputy, the man has his life.
The fire, which occurred at 5:30 a.m., was caused by an accident during cooking, South Metro Fire Rescue spokesperson Eric Hurst said.
The condominium building sits along Parker Road off Mississippi Avenue, close to Aurora.
“(It was) a very chaotic scene, a lot of smoke and a lot of people who woke up to this fire and trying to get themselves and their pets and any kids out,” Hurst said.
Deputies from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office were the first to arrive on scene, responding to smoke complaints and a call about a person being trapped in smoke. Deputy Armando Gutierrez located the individual upon his arrival, before firefighters arrived.
“The environment, it's all covered in black smoke, like I can't see more than a foot in,” he said. “I start yelling and I don't get an answer. So I crouch down a little bit, use my flashlight, start making my way into the apartment. At the end of that front hallway of the apartment, I can see a male standing there.”
Bodycam footage of the event shows thick smoke and officers coughing. Gutierrez repeatedly said "Come on" to the man and another voice said, "We've got to go, right now."
Gutierrez said the man was not responding to anything he was saying and seemed to be in shock. Later, Gutierrez learned that the man only spoke Russian.
“I asked him to come with me a few more times and he couldn't,” Gutierrez said. “At that point, the smoke was really bad and I started coughing. So I figured if it's bad for me, it has to be bad for him, so then I just grabbed him, picked him up and I took him out.”
Hurst said emergency response individuals made several other rescues once the firefighters arrived.
“It feels good, being able to help somebody out,” Gutierrez said. “I think anybody in my position would have done the same thing.”
Fire code and asbestos
This fire event marks the calendar with the first fire at Club Valencia this year, after five fires occurred there in 2022. Most notably, a major fire in November displaced people from approximately 85 units.
Hurst said the building, which was built in the 1960s, is not up to date with modern fire code standards as it is lacking a full-building alarm system and sprinkler system.
“So when this fire occurred, it was the people who witnessed the fire start (that were) knocking on doors and yelling at their neighbors to get out of the building,” he said.
The residents of 86 condo units are now displaced as a result of the fire, Hurst said. The American Red Cross and the Arapahoe County Office of Emergency Management are helping these victims as they cope with the tragedy.
Hurst said that a large part of the reason residents are displaced from their homes is because there is asbestos in the building, which was made more dangerous by the fire.
“Even though the fire was relatively small, the smoke extension and the ability for the asbestos to be aerosolized and traveling through the air makes it unsafe for the building occupants,” he said. “A big reason why all of them are displaced is because it will require asbestos abatement.”
Hurst said he does not know how long asbestos abatement generally takes, but the victims of the November fire are still waiting to move back into their homes for the same reason.