Dramatic Rescues Mark Fatal Denver Athletic Club Fire
Four men died and fifteen guests and employes were hospitalized as a result of a blaze which swept the old section of the Denver Athletic Club shortly alter 3:00 P.M. on Feb. 16, 1951. One fireman suffered a heart attack following the fire, but recovered.
According to Fire Chief Allie Feldman, and Assistant Chief James L. Cain, the latter in charge of the department’s fire prevention bureau, there was a lapse of eight minutes between the time the blaze broke out in the second-floor gymnasium of the old 5-story structure, and the turning in of the first alarm.
During the eight minutes, the fire gained sufficient headway to trap a number of guests and employes on the upper floors of the combustible structure. It is conceivable that this delay contributed materially to the loss of life.
According to the club head waiter, he tried to find the gymnasium fire extinguisher but it was hidden by draperies. “I ran down the hall and got another extinguisher,” Chief Cain quotes the employe as saying, “but by that time it was too late, so I got out.” Chief Cain said two wide doors in the Glenarm place wall of the gym were open. A draft up the stairway fanned the blaze through these open doors, cutting off escape by that route. It is reported ventilators in the gymnasium ceiling were operating but it was not determined whether or not they opened into the attic or the roof. Firemen believe they opened into the attic and, if this was the case, the draft from the open door, pushed the flames up the ventilating system into the upper stories, which would account for the speed with which the blaze gained headway.
Fire fighters, directed by Chief Feldman, were handicapped by ice in the alley-way behind the structure and the presence of a large number of power wires, which interfered with laddering of the structure.
The rapid spread of the fire drove some guests to the rear windows of the upper floors where their only hope of escape was by fire ladders. Photographs of the attempt to rescue these victims are among the most dramatic fire scenes pictured in some time.
The multiple alarms brought a dozen pumpers and other fire department units into action and firemen carried lines into the building while other streams were operated from wagon pipes and deluge sets in the rear of the structure. Chief Feld reported that 2,500 tons of water were thrown into the building in the fire extinguishing operations.
Most of the rescues in the rear were effected by means of extension ground ladders, the lack of room for operations making the use of aerial ladders practically impossible.
Of the fifteen persons hospitalized as a result of the fire, only four were held over the week end. Two of these were club members, a third was an employe, all suffering from smoke inhalation; the fourth was Fireman Lark Loose who suffered the heart attack.
Damage caused by the blaze was estimated at $1,500,000.
The Denver area suffered its second fatal club fire less than 24 hours after the burning of the Denver Athletic Club when an early Sunday morning blaze razed the swank Wolhurst Saddle Club south of Littleton. The fire broke out about 5:30 A.M., soon after the last celebrants of a big Saturday night crowd had left the club. About 25 men and women, most of them employes, fled in their night clothes. Some had to jump from windows. Two employes of the 52-room club were trapped and burned to death. The loss was estimated at $1,000,000.