LAKEWOOD — Following a preliminary report last month regarding the origin of the Moffat fire and explosion Oct. 15, 2019, the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (CDFPC) released its official report to the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office last week.
The cause of the fire remains undetermined and no indication of an incendiary cause was found. But some of the initial conclusions are contradicted in the final report.
Investigator Dawn Tollis and Chief of Investigations Jerry Means (Adams County Fire Department) were assigned by CDFPC to assess the fire and explosion. According to their report, Means interviewed the owner of a residence located at the northwest corner of the block, Skip Benson.
Means stated that Benson reported to him he and a female companion smelled smoke from inside the residence, went outside to see where the smoke was coming from, and saw the northeast corner of the structure located at 645 East Moffat Way on fire. “Benson said he heard the propane tank start to ‘whistle,’ recognized that sound as trouble, and told the female companion that they needed to move back. While starting to turn, he witnessed the propane tank explode, and ‘the rest of the world was on fire.”
This residence, then, “a wood framed structure with a 250-gallon propane tank located at the northeastern most comer of the building, was determined to be the origin of the fire. The structures involved were surrounded by tall grass, which allowed the fire to spread quickly to other buildings on the block.”
Part of the propane tank traveled 820 feet southeast of the site of origin and ignited a grass fire.
Means then examined other locations to see what was ignited as a result of the propane tank explosion, later
returning to the 645 East Moffat Way address to examine debris at the site.
“Several large pieces of equipment used for the occupant’s business were uncovered,” the report states. “These pieces of equipment showed extensive burn patterns, and it was suspected these pieces could be significant in the cause of the fire.” The nature of the equipment examined, however, was not identified.
While assessing the excavation site, the owner of the business known as Crystal Stix, Bill Vestil, arrived on the scene. Means asked Vestil what he witnessed at the time of the fire. According to Vestil, he heard one Toby Jones, a friend staying at the business/residence, “screaming that the greenhouse was on fire.”
Vestil told Adams he “went out a side door located on the east side of a section of the building that connected a greenhouse to the main building. He stated he saw flames coming from the Northwest corner of the greenhouse. At this time, it was not known by investigators that a greenhouse had been attached to the building.” No remnants of the greenhouse remained when the initial assessment was made.
“Vestil states he grabbed a garden hose to try and put the fire out but was not successful in his attempt and had to escape the scene. When Vestil was questioned about the operation of the equipment, he stated those specific pieces had never been operational and were never used.”
In the light of this new information, “Chief Means and Investigator Tollis decided to re-assess the scene, and re-interview Benson for additional details. On re-interview, Benson clarified that the flames were coming from the greenhouse, not the structure. Due to the complete degradation of the greenhouse from the fire, it was determined further layer search of the area was not possible.”
Lack of water hindered firefighting efforts
The report continues: “Fire personnel from the local fire department stated they received a call at approximately 4:20 p.m. to respond to a structure fire on 5th Street. Staff responded approximately 11 minutes later and immediately observed a structure located at 645 East Moffat Way with heavy smoke and fire coming from the rear of the building, moving toward the front of the building.
“Personnel stated that they started suppression efforts but were quickly hindered due to the lack of water supply in the area, as no hydrants were installed in the town. Fire personnel from surrounding communities were called to assist. Departments responding to the fire, hauled water to the scene in an effort to provide additional water resources. A well located at the Moffat Consolidated School was also accessed for water.”
Law enforcement confirmed the lack of water availability. “There were no water sources to be able to tap into,” Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick told CBS Oct.16, 2019. “To pump water, the nearest resources from here are about a 15-mile drive.”
The proposed Potch LLC/Area 420 Moffat Annexation 3 has been challenged on the grounds that marijuana extraction operations pose a fire hazard. Without sufficient water to fight potential fires, and Saguache County Commissioners have raised this issue with the town of Moffat, another disaster possibly even worse than the Moffat fire and explosion may not be able to be avoided.