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Fatal Denver Fire Sparks Lengthy Investigation

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

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A fatal fire last week at a Denver apartment building construction site is prompting a massive federal investigation, according to reports, calling into question under-the-table labor and safe work environments.

What Happened

According to reports, around 50 construction workers were inside the all-wood, five-story building when the fire broke out just after noon last Wednesday (March 7). Workers said that they smelled charcoal and then heard calls to get out of the building.

Neighbors—200 of whom were evacuated from nearby buildings—reported hearing explosions and spoke of the intense heat of the fire, which reportedly destroyed dozens of nearby parked cars and ignited several other buildings. (All but one were saved.)

Reportedly, some construction workers jumped out of the building’s windows and they, as well as other workers who tried to catch them, sustained injuries. One person was critically injured, one firefighter received burn injuries, four people were treated for smoke inhalation and two people died.

It was hours before the fire was extinguished and crews (100 firefighters responded to the blaze) stayed even longer to monitor hot spots.

While it’s known that the fire started on the third floor, its cause is another story. Denver Fire Department Captain Greg Pixley urged anyone with information to come forward.

The Investigation

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed that they were working with local officials to investigate the fire, and that it could likely be months before any conclusions are reached.

“I can tell you that we are working with the fire department investigating this fire and looking at (the contractors’) overall safety and health program,” said Herb Gibson, OSHA’s Denver-area director.

Labor organization officials told The Denver Post that there is evidence that at least one subcontractor employed workers paid under the table, calling into question whether other rules and regulations were followed onsite.

“When I approached the foreman for United Builders Service, I asked him how many workers he had on his crew. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I don’t know,’” said Mark Thompson, a union representative for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which responded to the fire scene to help workers. “This is unacceptable.”

While UBS did issue a statement of condolences, officials with the company declined to respond to the worker allegations.

The Post notes, though, that no safety complaints had been filed at the site and the project’s general contractor, Vertix Builders Inc., has a clean record with OSHA. That company also issued a statement, in which it pointed to its law-abiding record and called the allegation of off-the-book workers false.

“Vertix Builders places the highest value on the health and safety of our employees, subcontractors and the people who live and work in the vicinity of a Vertix Builders project,” the statement reads. “We are committed to determining the facts and working with investigators to establish the cause of this incident.”

The wood-framed complex had recently topped out, and has been under construction for 18 months. Developer Allante Properties issued a statement as well, saying that they are devastated by the tragedy and that they will cooperate with the investigation “in any and all ways.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Fire; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Safety; Wood

Comment from Robert Bullard, (3/14/2018, 5:56 PM)

While we all may agree this fire situation was not comparable to Chicago on OCT 8, 1871, throughout the land we see massive multihousing projects of three stories or more of wood everything once the superstructure comes out of the earth. This was a disaster waiting to happen. It could have been a lot worse. All of us who are part of the built environment process must do more the just point to 'up to code' in justifying massive wood occupancy structures. In 1871, there was not much else to work with in most areas; today, we have many choices.

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