Aurora firefighters, Xcel crews visited Heather Gardens before fatal explosion, fire

Aurora firefighters and Xcel Energy natural gas crews responded to Heather Gardens, a senior residential community, twice on consecutive days just before a deadly gas-leak explosion and fire that killed an octogenarian.

Firefighters were called to the 200-acre complex, just east of I-225 and south of East Iliff Avenue, 25 times since May 29 to multiple addresses for a variety of reasons, according to records obtained by The Denver Post.

Of those calls, six were on reports of outside natural gas leaks; one was on an interior natural gas leak; and 10 calls were on reports of smoke or odor with no fire. The 10 smoke or odor calls do not specify whether the odor was natural gas.

Killed in the Nov. 16 fire was 82-year-old Carol Ross. Firefighters were called to Heather Gardens eight times in November, four times before the explosion, and four times subsequently. Of the four calls prior, two, on Nov. 13 and 14, were on reports of an outside natural gas leak, according to records.

Xcel Energy officials have not provided a list of calls for service for this story. They have, however, reviewed the Aurora Fire Rescue list and said “our visits match up with those they have reported, specifically noted as gas leaks.”

Xcel confirmed on Friday that the fire rescue list “includes four events where Xcel Energy responded to a natural gas leak and made repairs.”

Those events — on Oct. 23 and 29 and Nov. 13 and 14 — were caused by damage from third-party contractors not working for Xcel, said Mark Stutz, an Xcel spokesman. A Nov. 18 outside natural gas leak did not involve a repair but was the result of residual gas in the area.

Workers drilling underground pathways — possibly for fiber-optic cables — struck buried natural-gas lines twice at the senior living community.

On the night of the deadly explosion and fire, the community of 55-year-old plus residents was evacuated as a safety precaution, and the clubhouse was turned into an evacuation center. Gas service was turned off to the complex.

Two other people, including a firefighter, were injured. An Aurora Fire Rescue investigation into the incident, including the cause, is ongoing.

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