Residents of senior apartment building hit by fire in Littleton must find new homes

Asbestos contamination from fire rendered building uninhabitable, officials said


All the residents of the east tower of the Windermere apartments — 163 seniors — will be evicted from the building after a mid-November fire rendered the building uninhabitable, building management announced at a meeting with residents on Dec. 3.

City of Littleton fire and building officials declared the building uninhabitable, according to a city news release, because of significant asbestos contamination throughout much of the building.

Though details are still being hammered out, residents will likely begin moving out of the building's 130 units on Dec. 10, said Andy Boian, a spokesman for Tebo-Orvis LLC, the company that owns the building.

“I'm numb — just numb,” said Carolyn Stubbert, who moved back to the Windermere after leaving the complex's west tower following a 2016 fire that saw more than 130 residents evicted. “It's the same thing all over again. Turmoil. Uncertainty. I don't know what we're going to do.”

Carolyn's husband Jim said he wasn't surprised.

“I knew since the day of the fire this was coming,” Jim said. He was hospitalized for two nights for smoke inhalation following the fire.

The building's residents have been locked out since Nov. 17, when a fire in a first-floor apartment forced the full evacuation of the building, located on South Datura Street, just south of Littleton Boulevard. Michael Mitchell, the resident of the burned unit, died in the blaze. At least 14 others were injured. The fire was contained to one unit, but smoke made its way throughout the building, officials said.

Nine units, mostly on the building's first floor, are considered a total loss, meaning most of those residents' belongings are so contaminated that they cannot be cleaned. The building's basement, which houses several apartments, is still off limits, said Michael Haselhof, a manager with Interstate Restoration, the company overseeing the building.

Tebo-Orvis is working with the city to craft an “evacuation plan,” Boian said, which will likely spell out a schedule for the clearing out of each floor of the tower, starting with the top of the five-story building. The first floor and basement are still off-limits, however.

Regular moving companies are unlikely to be able to handle the move, Boian said, and special disaster mitigation companies will be needed to remove and decontaminate residents' belongings. The building's elevators, lobby and central stairs are off limits, so movers and others will only be able to use fire exit stairs to access units. It is unclear when or if residents will be able to enter units themselves.

Tebo-Orvis will refund residents' security deposits, pro-rated rent since the day of the fire, and provide an additional $500 per resident, Boian said, but only once each resident is fully moved out.

Arapahoe County's Housing and Community Development Division is gearing up to assist residents find new housing, said Linda Haley, the division's director. Love Inc., a Christian charity, is also poised to help residents with needs big and small, said Kathryn Roy, the group's director.

The county may be able to provide funds to help residents get into new homes until Tebo-Orvis refunds their money, Haley said.

Some face greater problems. One woman who spoke during the meeting said she is an immigrant, and unable to function without her green card and passport, which have been locked in her basement unit since the day of the fire.

Haselhof provided no timeline for retrieving items from basement units, but said all residents should be prepared for a lengthy process of cleaning and retrieving belongings.

“Everybody's unit has smoke damage,” Haselhof said. “Don't move those belongings to your new apartments unless you get them professionally cleaned.”

The city stands behind residents, said Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman.

“It's not the news anybody wanted to hear, but it's not unexpected,” Brinkman said. “I've been sorely disappointed in this management group. I was disappointed two years ago, and I'm disappointed now. The answers just haven't been there for these people.”

Numerous residents at the meeting said they are still without official letters from management to confirm the building is off-limits, which they said are necessary to make full insurance claims. Boian said the company is working on getting letters to that effect ready “as soon as possible.”

For those residents still waiting in hotels and in the homes of friends and family, at least the news provided a chance to move forward.

“I just want to get my husband's ashes,” said Carla Baker, who lived in the building as a caretaker for a blind resident. “Everything else is just stuff.”



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