Investigators continue to sift through the rubble of an apartment complex that burned in a spectacular two-alarm fire sparked by a natural gas leak.
Damage at the Country Lake Apartments, 364 E. Woodlake Cove (4095 South) was estimated at $2.5 million. Six of the 12 units in the complex were completely gutted by fire. The other six, on the opposite side of the structure, suffered heavy smoke and water damage. Unified Fire Authority Capt. Jay Torgersen said it had not been determined as of Wednesday whether the complex would be repaired or if the owners would be forced to knock the whole structure down.
On Wednesday, investigators were moving debris to get to an area where they believe the fire originated. An explosion was reported in the area where a Questar gas employee was investigating complaints of a possible leak.
"We know we received the call and responded to the call. There was no gas to the apartment complex," Questar spokesman Darren Shepherd said Wednesday. "We went out and started to sample the soil and any gas."
During that process, there was an ignition and the fire started. The gas company worker managed to get several people out of the burning apartments. Residents hailed him as a hero.
"He shielded me from the flames ... as far as I'm concerned, he saved me," said Charmaine Harmon, who lived in one of the apartments.
The Questar employee is back at work today and did not want to be identified or interviewed, Shepherd said.
"It's a startling incident that left him pretty shook up over the whole thing," he said.
Investigators determined Wednesday that the fire was accidental. No signs of arson were uncovered, Torgersen said.
The tricky part for investigators now will be trying to determine what may have ignited the gas.
"That is sometimes difficult when you have such a huge fire that damages everything that could have been an ignition source," Torgersen said.
It's also possible investigators will never find what triggered the inferno. Questar said it will try to excavate the ground to reach the gas line.
"We don't know what ignited it, what the ignition source was. We don't know the condition of the pipe," Shepherd said
Tenants of the six units that suffered smoke and water damage were escorted back into their apartments late Tuesday to retrieve valuable items, such as wallets and prescription medicines, Torgersen said. Later, that portion of the building was turned over to apartment management.
Tenants of the other six units will have to wait until the building is determined to be structurally safe enough to enter. But Torgersen noted there's "not a whole lot that's salvageable."Displaced residents have been placed plced in vacant units in the complex. They are receiving assistance from the Red Cross with day-to-day needs such as tooth brushes and clothing.