Seniors likely won't be able to return to Windermere apartment building hit by fire until at least next week

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The seniors displaced by an early-morning fire at the Windermere apartments on Nov. 17 aren't going home this week.

That was the message from Michael Haselhoff, the project director at Insterstate Restoration, the company leading cleanup efforts at the senior-living complex in Littleton.

“I don't see that the building is going to open to overnight stays anytime soon,” Haselhoff said Nov. 20.

Andy Boian, a spokesman for Tebo-Orvis LLC, which owns the building, initially told residents that air-quality test results on the building would come in by the afternoon of Nov. 19, but Haselhoff told a tense meeting of residents that results aren't expected until at least Nov. 23.

The tests will determine whether the building at 5829 S. Datura St. is safe to enter, Haselhoff said.

“It's not something that's going to happen overnight,” Haselhoff said. “If the air quality is good, you could potentially get in (to retrieve belongings) by the end of this week. If it's bad, people may never get back into the building.”

The fire, which was contained to a first-floor unit, left one man dead and 13 people injured. Smoke spread throughout the five-story building, likely home to more than 100 people.

The first floor near the scene of the fire is likely a loss, Haselhoff said.

“Speaking from experience, there was enough materials disturbed that (the first floor) will be deemed a spill (of asbestos),” Haselhoff said. “The first floor next to the point of origin, it's pretty bad, folks.”

Boian removed three news reporters from the meeting, though numerous residents provided recordings to the Independent. Boian said the reporters' removal was at the behest of the building's owners.

Residents have a “general sense of nervousness, anxiety, sadness, and a desire to have information as fast as we can give it to them,” Boian said. “That' why we're holding these daily briefings, which we give to them every day at 2 o'clock.”

The next briefing won't be held until next week, Haselhoff said.

The delays are frustrating, but not shocking, said resident Michael Simpson.

“It means no clothes, no belongings, no nothing until next week,” Simpson said.

Though no official count has been released, residents of the building's more than 130 units have been displaced since Nov. 17. Michael Mitchell, 70, was killed in the blaze, and at least 13 other people were injured. A fire in the complex's west tower in 2016 resulted in the eviction of all the building's residents.

Some injuries may yet be developing. Carolyn Stubbert, 79, said her husband Jim, 83, was hospitalized on Nov. 19 for respiratory issues she believes are related to the fire. The building's hallways filled with smoke as residents evacuated, though some remained trapped on their balconies for hours.

Though most of the building's residents are staying with relatives or in hotels, several spent the nights since the fire in a makeshift Red Cross shelter in the Life Center, across the street from the tower.

Boian told residents on Nov. 19 that the building's owners, Stephen Tebo and Heath Orvis, would allow them to spend a single night in vacant units in the complex's west tower, but those in the shelter declined.

“Why move everything over there for one night?” said Barbara Fry, 80. “Here we have food, medical assistance, and each other. What were we going to do in empty apartments?”

The Red Cross closed the shelter on Nov. 20, and arranged for residents to be moved to a block of hotel rooms nearby. The Red Cross will continue to assist residents on an as-needed basis, said Andrea Carlson, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The situation was nerve-wracking for Anne Heathman, who also volunteers with Love Inc., a Christian charity group that has been assisting residents.

“There's a very good chance there's nothing for me to recover,” said Heathman, whose apartment was immediately adjacent to the unit that burned. “All I can do is wait.”

 

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