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Body found in debris of massive construction fire near downtown Denver

The fire broke out at a construction site near 18th and Emerson.
Credit: Courtesy joeysokolowski

A body has been found in the smoldering debris of a major fire at a construction site near downtown Denver Wednesday afternoon that sent a plume of smoke 200 feet into the air and was so hot that it demolished 40 cars.

There is still one person missing.

"We need to find them," Denver Fire Department spokesperson Greg Pixley said. "We have to go through and make sure this doesn't happen again."

One person was critically injured in the blaze and four others were injured either jumping from the burning building or catching people who were, Pixley said. A firefighter also suffered burn injuries.

Pixley said the person who died was a construction worker, as was the person who is still missing.

The fire was first reported at a construction site for what was supposed to be a new apartment building near 18th Avenue and Emerson Street at around 12:09 p.m.

Pixley says Denver Fire received reports that after the blaze broke out on the third floor of the building, construction workers leapt from the structure to avoid the rapidly growing flames, which consumed the exposed wood at the site within moments.

"This is very unique," Pixley said.

Credit: Courtesy JoAnn Adams
A construction worker climbing out of a building near 18th and Emerson.

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The heat was so strong it could be felt 400 feet away, Pixley said. The National Weather Service was able to detect the smoke from its radar.

More than 100 firefighters ultimately responded. Pixley says the fire spread to five other buildings.

Embers also caused fires on the roofs of six nearby buildings, Pixley said, and the heat damaged three fire engines and three construction trucks.

The construction site where the fire first erupted is a total loss. It was supposed to become the Emerson Place Apartments, which would have been five stories with 85 units, according to the Denver Planning Commission.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation – and Pixley says firefighters will likely be at the site throughout the evening trying to piece together what happened.

“If it wasn’t for the efforts of the construction workers and their efforts to look out for their own colleagues in the building … it could have been a lot worse,” Pixley said.

Pixley said there will be a “long, aggressive” search of the building Wednesday night.

Anyone who was in the area at the time of the blaze is asked to report to the parking lot at 18th Avenue and Emerson Street for a headcount, according to the Denver Police Department.

Police have already taken 100 witness statements about the blaze, and are asking anyone they haven't spoken to yet to call 720-337-2000 to talk to the Denver Fire Department's investigation division.

Park Avenue is closed from 17th to 20th Avenues due to the ongoing investigation. People are told to avoid the area of 18th and Emerson Street due to the active scene, the Denver Office of Emergency Management tweeted.

At about 6 p.m., Emerson reopened to traffic. Ogden Street to Clarkson Street - including Park Avenue - is still closed for the investigation.

Denver PD said late Wednesday night due to power outages, the intersections of 18th and Emerson, Park Ave and 19th Ave, and 19th Ave and Clarkson St. will all be marked as four-way stops through the morning hours.

As of around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the entire 1800 block of Emerson Street is under an evacuation order. An evacuation center was set up at the St. Charles Recreation Center at 3777 N. Lafayette St. until it closed at 10 p.m.

For those still needing help, you can call the Red Cross' 24-hour helpline at 1-800-417-0495.

Embers from the fire were found blocks away – and some of them were the size of softballs.

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