Fire Destroys Block of Businesses in Colorado Town

The fire in Pueblo may have started in an office supply store.

June 04--A fire that ignited at about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday engulfed the entire west side of the 300 block of Court Street in a blaze that may have started in Office Systems Inc.

The fire, which poured thick, black smoke east toward Main Street and Santa Fe Avenue, was barely under control late Tuesday. Pueblo firefighters, many of whom were exhausted after looking much of the day for the body of a man presumed drowned in the Arkansas River, fought the growing fire as it burst into raging flames on the roofs of the block at about 8 p.m.

As of late Tuesday, there were no injuries reported from the fire. It was presumed that the businesses were empty when the fire started, according to Lisa Shorter of the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office.

Later Tuesday, Pueblo Fire Department Public Information Officer Gary Micheli said, "We're getting our second wind. We'll be here all night. There are still hot spots." Micheli said he thought the fire may have started in Office Systems, 305 W. Third St., but was not certain. "We won't know much for a week," he said, as crew members poured thousands of gallons of water and retardant on the burning block.

Ammunition from Johnson Sport & Ski, 315 Court St., could be heard popping at about 8:30 p.m. Micheli and Capt.

Eric Bravo of the Pueblo Police Department, said that exploding ammunition was their chief worry when the fire ignited.

Hundreds of Puebloans and possibly more descended on the area after the sky became choked with smoke.

Eventually, they were kept a block away, but for a while they gathered at the city parking garage on Third Street, across the street from the ravaged block.

"Get off the garage," yelled a woman police officer as the fire intensified. The people, seemingly more interested in the spectacle than their safety, slowly moved back and off the structure. Many photographed and recorded the fire with their cellphones.

Companies from the

Pueblo West Fire Department, Pueblo Rural Fire Department and American Medical Response assisted Pueblo companies. Pueblo police officers took control of the crowd and traffic around the fire, blocking off streets including Third and Court, and Fourth Street and Grand Avenue.

Micheli and Bravo said the businesses on Court, from 301 to 309, were attached by a common hallway or attic.

Just before 7 p.m., smoke started billow- ing from vents and fans on the building before emerging from the roofs, growing in thickness and turning black. One firefighter said the black smoke was probably from wood and possibly burning furniture.

Firefighters seemed poised to enter the buildings at that point, but stopped short of entering. Many kneeled, seemingly in prayer, and readied to go in, before the order came to stand down.

At about 7:45, it was impossible to see the 300 block of Court looking north on Third. The black smoke was so thick that just flashing lights from fire trucks and police cars were visible.

Then, at about 8, flames erupted from the roofs of the businesses and, inside Office Systems, the ceiling came crashing down, visible from through the tornopen door and broken windows of the business. Buildings on Main Street and east down Third were obscured in the maelstrom of black smoke.

At 8:30 p.m., yellow and red embers began floating toward the east.

"I'm very concerned," Micheli said of the sparks.

Copyright 2014 - The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.