One of the 12 people living in the eight-unit Cherry Creek South condo complex where a fire started on October 19, 2016, recalls the moment when the first screaming victim ran into her bedroom.
“I get up and look at my unit,” Jasmin Sandoval said. “My entire door was just open and I saw flames everywhere.”
The blaze broke out about 8.40pm. Firefighters arrived and found six people outside a building, 20 units down on the second and third floors of the building, facing west on University Boulevard. They quickly searched the upper floors and found an apartment filled with smoke. Flames extended from a locked door to the neighbor’s apartment, but fire officials said it had been locked. Firefighters opened the door to the unit and flames extended upstairs, forcing them to enter the room.
Dana McCarthy, the 74-year-old owner of the home in the alley, was not home, but her roommate lived in the apartment with her two cats. It is unclear how McCarthy got out of the apartment before firefighters arrived.
McCarthy, 71, was found dead in the apartment more than a week later on October 28, in what fire officials say was caused by a laundry fire that spread quickly through the walls.
In the aftermath of the fire, the condo’s residents were living in limbo.
“They told us, because of the history of the person who died, that the building would remain unsafe until they can figure out what went wrong,” Sandoval said. “It was kind of scary, but at the same time it felt like the only thing to do is let it go.”
The building, at 1525 Broadway Avenue, was eventually deemed safe for occupancy, about two months after the fire.
In total, 16 adults and children were evacuated, as well as two dogs, one cat and one chinchilla, fire officials said.
Shortly after the fire, fire officials suggested that the cause of the fire was linked to faulty electrical wiring that had been removed, or had a new cover added, on a fourth-floor apartment. They later said that before they would attribute the fire to improper wiring, they would need to finish their investigation. The cause remains under investigation.
Sandoval and a number of other residents have also sued the building’s management company, Orion Development, and its parent company, Pacificor, contending that the company acted negligently in failing to address safety issues, such as the faulty wiring, in the building’s original 1970s construction.
A separate wrongful death lawsuit against both companies has also been filed by McCarthy’s children.
Julie McNeely and her husband, who own property at the top of the building, returned home after the fire. It was then that she discovered the front door to her home had been removed, which she believed came after several years.
McNeely, who was home with her children, believed the door was removed in response to a fire that broke out at the neighboring building, which had also removed the front door and insulation on its heating and air conditioning unit.
“But when we came back they weren’t doing anything at the building,” McNeely said. “My husband said ‘They took down the door! That’s not true, they’re just not here.’”
When the couple returned to the condo complex, the front door to the next floor remained up.
McNeely’s husband, Nick, said their livelihoods were on the line.
“We’re very secure people in the morning, we don’t expose ourselves to many people, we keep a lot of things locked up,” he said. “If they moved the door open I think it would cost us more than our business.”
Nick McNeely also said he noticed that the building management was putting up concrete, which he considered an attempt to quell some of the growing rumors floating around the building. He was curious why concrete when the building was clearly unsafe and had more than one fire.
Triplarek said the second floor of the building is currently still being gutted and repaired but expects reconstruction to be finished before the summer.