Two agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobbacco, Firearms and Explosives are expected to arrive in Durango Monday afternoon to assist with the investigation of the fire at a vacant building on Camino del Rio.
Durango police and fire officials believe the fire was “likely not accidental” because all power and utilities to the building had been turned off in anticipation of its demolition in early June, said Deputy Chief Randy Black, of the Durango Fire Protection District.
The ATF has the equipment and a laboratory that can determine if an accelerant was used at the site, he said.
The fire at 1111 Camino del Rio was reported just before midnight Sunday and firefighters arrived less than two minutes later to find much of the structure ablaze. Black said it would be unusual for a fire in that location to have been burning long without being noticed because of its proximity to the highway, river trail and downtown.
One southbound lane of Camino del Rio from Ninth Street to 12th Street remained closed Monday afternoon as the fire continued to smolder and firefighters attacked hot spots. Black said he expects the highway to fully reopen Tuesday.
Fire Marshal Karola Hanks said Monday that there is no evidence that anyone was in the building during the fire.
The last of about a dozen businesses in the building, just south of Natural Grocer’s, vacated in mid-May. The building was sold on March 31, and the new owners planned to demolish it and build an 86-room hotel. The brand of the hotel has not been announced.
Black said no one could benefit from the blaze, and he expects the investigation could slow the developer’s plans to begin construction.
Black said a small storage shed toward the back of the same property at 1111 Camino del Rio was set on fire last week, causing damage to the interior of the structure. He was unaware if there were any suspects in that fire.
Black said vagrants had been using the area as a hang out in recent weeks, possibily living in the recently abandoned structure.
“Basically, we’ve heard there were vagrants living in there, but we’ve heard a lot of things,” Black said. “That’s why we investigate: to separate the myth from fact.”
Police and fire investigators were following leads on the fire and conducting interviews on Monday, Black said.
Because the building was mostly empty, the fire was burning the structure itself, which was built in the mid-1960s, he said. The building would likely be considered a total loss.
Durango fire had 45 firefighters at the scene, as well as three chief officers, two investigators, two ladder trucks, four engines and four ambulances, Black said.
Staff writer Jonathan Romeo contributed to this report.