Close call in fire found at transient camp
A fire broke out in a transient campsite in the Old Colorado City area the afternoon of Nov. 18. The location was an open area about 100 feet north of Naegele Road, east of 25th Street, next to Fountain Creek.
City firefighters eventually contained the blaze to an area of less than 200 square feet, with no injuries or property damage.
However, there were several minutes of concern. Smoke was billowing into the sky. This attracted a Westside Pioneer reporter, who arrived at the scene well before the fire trucks. Two people already there told the Pioneer they were trying to report the call on 911 but could not get through. One of them, Joe Micciulla, owner of the Mowers & Motors business nearby on 25th Street, said he waited about a minute and a half with no answer.
As the fire continued to spread, aided by a layer of fallen leaves beneath a thick stand of trees, Micciulla and employee Anthony Mikesell hurried to their shop for fire extinguishers. They emptied four of them on the flames - which then were reaching heights of three to four feet - and this appeared to slow the fire's progress.
Later, Micciulla and Mikesell chuckled at being called “heroes” for what they'd done. “It would have been a shame to have it get up into those trees,” Micciulla commented.
Meanwhile, the other caller said she managed to get through using a Police Department phone number. Shortly after the citizen fire extinguisher effort, Engine 1 from Fire Station 1 drove up. Firefighters pulled out a hose line and doused the worst of the blaze within about 10 minutes.
A report from the Fire Department had still not been made available at press time Nov. 20, so the results of any investigation into the fire are not known. Also unexplained is why Station 1 responded instead of the nearer Stations 3 or 5. But it was clear that the fire had started at the campsite - which was littered with the charred remains of personal possessions - and that no camper(s) were present during the incident.
Those possessions included clothes, reading materials, a metal cooler, several bricks, a camp chair, two shopping carts (one from Wal-Mart, the other unmarked) and a baby stroller (but no other baby-related goods).
Police who responded around the same time as Engine 1 were seen checking some of the items, apparently looking for evidence.
“It is the time of year for cold weather and we are aware of the campers using open fires,” Gold Hill Police Commander Pat Rigdon said when contacted afterward (before the recent snow). He agreed that the fire was a close call. “The weather is as dry as it can be,” he said.
The property where the fire occurred is owned by the City of Colorado Springs. There is a city law against public overnight camping.
Rigdon said the Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) looks for such campers, trying to find them legal housing and issuing citations if warnings to break camp are ignored.
One problem with enforcing the no-camping law is the number of people who “cowboy camp” and thus are hard to keep up with, he said.
Through Rigdon, the Pioneer put in a question to the 911 office about the fire callers' inability to get through. A response from that office had not been provided by press time.
Regarding the two shopping carts at the fire scene, Rigdon said, “Quite a few of the homeless population use the shopping carts to haul their belongings around. Technically this is theft, but we run into problems proving that they removed the carts from the store lot or just found it. In addition, the stores usually don't want to do anything about it.”
Westside Pioneer article