On Saturday, March 3, 1984, over 100 Denver firefighters fought a four alarm fire that almost destroyed the historic Masonic building on the 16th Street Mall at Welton Street. The first alarm came in at 7:02 p.m., the second sounded at 7:30, the third at 8:30, and the final alarm went out at 10:08 p.m.; a total of 20 pieces of equipment were used.
At one point the fire was so bad that it threatened to jump to the nearby Kittredge building. Firefighters saved that building by spraying it with water. Firefighters were hampered in their efforts to fight the Masonic building fire because of the design of the mall itself. "It was a tremendous problem," said Fire Chief Myrie Wise, referring to having to move the fire trucks from one side of the 16th Street Mall's roadway to the other because firemen feared the building would collapse on them. Firefighters had to cut down several trees to make way for ladders (Rocky Mountain News, March 4, 1984). The fire shot up hundreds of feet as it burst through the roof, which promptly collapsed at around 10:30 at night. Because of the fire, much of downtown was enveloped in white smoke and haze. While this was one of the largest fires in the city's history, encompassing a quarter of a city block and seven stories into the air, it still was not as big and financially devastating as the University Hills Mall fire on Thanksgiving eve, 1983.
One week before the fire, two Denver developers announced plans for a $6 million renovation of the vintage 1890s building. Renovation had begun, and what was left was mainly wood, which fed the fire. There were no injuries of any occupants of the building as it was largely empty that Saturday evening; however, 11 firefighters were injured. At the time, the source of the fire was unknown.
Later, as the investigation of the fire commenced, Walter Garcia, owner of Jerry Breen Florists, located on the ground floor of the building, was charged with first degree arson. He was later tried and convicted to 16 years in prison. Denver Fire Captain James Persichitti stated that there were two possible motives. One was revenge for the problems that the developers, Cambridge Development, had been giving Garcia in regard to his lease, and a financial motive, to collect on the insurance. The fire was started with gasoline inside the rear of the flower shop. Two other fires were started in other parts of the building, but did little damage before burning out (Rocky Mountain News, July 10, 1985).
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