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An early morning fire consumed a portion of the long-abandoned Columbine Square Shopping Center at Federal Boulevard and Belleview Avenue in Littleton on Jan. 3.
Littleton Fire Rescue received a call just after 3 a.m., said LFR spokeswoman Jackie Erwin.
"When we got here, it was fully involved," Erwin said. "We started a defensive attack - we surrounded the fire and drowned it. It was going to be a complete loss anyway."
The fire completely consumed a small storefront on the building's east side, formerly a dance studio, leaving only a crumbling brick facade. Erwin said a total of 10 units from both Littleton Fire Rescue and South Metro Fire Rescue responded to the fire.
Nobody was in the structure when firefighters arrived, and no injuries were reported, Erwin said.
The blaze was "accidental human-caused," said City of Littleton spokeswoman Kelli Narde in an email on Jan. 8.
"In checking the surrounding buildings there are obvious signs of people living in the buildings (abandoned clothing, food containers)," Erwin said in an email. "We did locate a couple of fuel containers as well (one large metal can inside and one plastic can outside). We currently have no suspects or witness statements."
Chris Ibsen, the manager of O'Toole's Garden Center, which abuts Columbine Square, said he showed up as the fire was raging after a neighbor called him. O'Toole's was not damaged by the fire.
"It was eerie," Ibsen said. "There was nobody around but the firefighters. It was so quiet and cold out."
Columbine Square is not completely abandoned, Erwin said.
"It is a known spot for homeless and transients to squat," Erwin said. "You can tell people have been in these buildings sleeping - there are mattresses and so forth in different parts of the structure."
Columbine Square has long been a headache for Littleton. The shopping center, which once housed a Safeway and various small businesses, has been vacant since 2014. The property, owned by Carl Chang - the older brother and former coach of tennis star Michael Chang - through Redwood-Kairos Real Estate Partners, is Littleton's sole remaining urban renewal district.
Chang had not returned requests for comment on Wednesday.
A fact sheet on the website of Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, the city's urban renewal authority, lists the difficulties associated with the center - which is the city's sole remaining urban renewal district.
"[A] significant challenge associated with redevelopment of the Columbine Square area is the number of parcels owned by out-of-state interests," the fact sheet reads in part. "Particularly those that are part of a larger portfolio of assets, whereas these often lack the attention received by those with a local presence and higher expectation of financial return."
The fact sheet also says that 14 buildings on the property, or 82 percent of the structure, have no fire sprinklers.
The structure shows evidence of significant vandalism, with many of the windows broken and graffiti covering numerous storefronts.
"The number one priority in District 1 is what to do with Columbine Square," City Councilmember Patrick Driscoll said after hearing about the fire. "It's not good for the community if there are squatters living in there. I've heard all the copper has been stripped from the stores by thieves."
Driscoll said he has not spoken with Chang or Redwood-Kairos, but he has met with a developer hired by Chang to come up with a plan for the property.
"Multifamily housing sounds likely, and it would make sense in that area," Driscoll said. "I'd like to see a community building, and the more green space the better. A little retail would be good too."
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