Close call for Angler's Covey in homeless fire; meeting set Jan. 11Jan. 9, 2018; updated Jan. 11
Editor's note: This article notes that a public meeting - just announced today (Jan. 9) - will be held Thursday, Jan. 11. See final three paragraphs for details.
The effect was an outage that lasted into the next day for the Angler's Covey fishing store on the creek's south bank as well as for an unconfirmed number of other households and businesses in the area.
“I can verify that the fire started in a homeless camp,” said Colorado Springs Fire Department spokesperson Capt. Brian Vaughan, in a phone interview with the Westside Pioneer. “We can only assume that it was being used for camping or cooking.”
Flames were shooting as high as 20 feet at one point, according to Dave Leinweber, the Angler's Covey owner, who said he was working late that night with his wife Becky and reported the fire.
Firefighters were able to douse the blaze without any property damage besides the phone line. No injuries were reported.
“They had a hard time putting it out at first,” Leinweber told the Pioneer. “Any time they run into this homeless stuff, they have to work around booby traps [set by campers to safeguard their possessions], so they go slow.”
Afterward, there was a social media posting of someone who claimed to have witnessed a few people fleeing the fire scene, but police have announced no arrests.
Another social media posting put the number of outage-impacted addresses at 96. Leinweber said he had heard 244. A spokesperson for Century Link was researching actual numbers at deadline for this article Jan. 9 and whether the phone line was fiber optic.
(Update, Jan. 10: Brandon Yergey of Century Link reported the following: "CenturyLink experienced an overnight service outage January 5-6. The outage, caused by a third-party fire, affected a limited number of businesses and households and damaged two fiber cables. Technicians worked around the clock to restore all services early morning on January 7.")
The incident occurred about a month after the Fire Department announced a new city policy allowing “warming fires” for illegal camps around the city.
As an added wrinkle, Leinweber said an abandoned campfire was simultaneously burning under the bridge on the creek's south bank the night of Jan. 5,
So Dave and Becky proposed putting it out themselves. When firefighters said this was allowable, Leinweber fetched the store fire extinguisher and did so, he told the Pioneer.
Asked to confirm or comment on Leinweber's account, the Fire Department's Vaughan said he was researching the matter.
(Update, Jan. 11: According to Brian Vaughan of CSFD, Fire Chief Ted Collas has since “apologized” to Leinweber and “stated if this did happen it was counter-culture and against policy for the CSFD to respond in the negative regarding fire extinguishment.”)
Leinweber said this was the sixth time this year he's had to call 911 to report fires near his business, the back of which is close to the creek.
Adding to his concern is his understanding that at least a third of the campers are “strung out” on drugs or alcohol. “How do we help business owners deal with this new threat?” he asked in the Pioneer interview. “My business was threatened. It still is. I don't have a trust factor that the city will keep this under control.”
Leinweber summarized his story to City Council during the Citizen Comments portion of its formal meeting Jan. 9. “This shouldn't be how the city works,” he said.
He proposed establishing a “task force of business leaders” to look for answers. “Homelessness is enough of an issue that it needs to be identified and focused on,” he told the elected body.
Councilmember Richard Skorman, whose District 3 encompasses Angler's Covey and the south part of the Westside, said he is aware of the problem and pledged to "follow through” on seeking solutions. “You probably feel abandoned, but you're not," Skorman reassured Leinweber.
Councilmember Tom Strand added that a public meeting on the issue is now planned for Thursday, Jan. 11 at about 6:30 p.m. at the Westside Community Center. The hastily planned gathering will follow the City Parks meeting - which was previously scheduled from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the center regarding planned improvements to Bancroft Park.
The 6:30 p.m. session is being coordinated by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN). It will also include personnel from the City Police and Fire departments, according to OWN board member Linda Schlarb.
A long-time advocacy group for the Westside, OWN recently had a poll on its Facebook page asking for responses pro and con about the warming fires. Based on a late-December check of the poll's results, opposition to the fires was close to 90 percent.
Westside Pioneer article