Woman killed in Aurora retirement community explosion identified

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AURORA, Colo. -- The retirement community where a large fire caused major damage Friday night has identified the person killed in the incident.

In a letter from the Heather Gardens Board of Directors, the board said Carol Ross was killed in the explosion that started a fire which eventually destroyed several residences.

Ross had lived at the complex for more than 10 years. According to friend Viola Stafford, Ross was well known in the community.

"I've just been so upset," said Stafford. "I heard this morning that it was her unit that was destroyed, and I've been scared all day. And then we finally got the news -- I just can't believe it. She was such a vibrant person. She was helpful to everybody."

Carol Ross. Credit: Heather 'n Yon Newsletter

In the letter, the board also said the damage was limited to six units within three duplex buildings.

The retirement community is near South Abilene Street and East Yale Avenue, just west of Interstate 225.

Aurora Fire Rescue said Friday night that one firefighter and one civilian were injured and taken to a hospital. The injuries to those two people were not life-threatening. The firefighter had been released from the hospital.

Witnesses reported a strong smell of gas in the neighborhood prior to the explosion and fire.

Heather Gardens is a community for people who are age 55 and over, according to the community's website.

Xcel Energy said there was a gas leak earlier in the week on Wednesday in Heather Gardens. That incident was not related to what happened Friday evening. The utility issued a statement early Saturday morning:

“Our thoughts are with the residents impacted by the incident and we are working with first responders. But, we do want our customers to know that the event on Wednesday and this evening are not related, other than that both were caused by a non-Xcel Energy contractor working for a third party. The Wednesday leak occurred in a different section of the same neighborhood and was repaired the same day. This evening we responded to a suspected leak in about thirty minutes. Upon arrival we were working with the local fire department to secure the area and were in the process of addressing the leak when the explosion occurred.”

While Aurora Fire said there was an explosion and the fire was fed by gas, it did not know what caused the explosion. The investigation into the cause was just beginning.

According to the aforementioned letter, Comcast employees were recently installing fiber optic cables on the property and the Public Utilities Commission has issued a cease-and-desist order to Comcast demanding no further work is done on the property until further notice. However, the PUC said Monday that such an order was not issued. Instead, PUC staff requested Heather Gardens voluntarily suspect any underground construction projects until all investigating agencies involved could fully assess safety risks.

Comcast sent the following statement to FOX31 and Channel 2:

"The explosion and fire that occurred last night at Heather Gardens is a terrible tragedy, and our hearts go out to the residents and loved ones who were impacted. We share the community’s gratitude for the courageous response of first responders who were quickly on site and contained the fire.  Comcast has had contractor crews working in the area for the last several months. We know this is still under investigation and we will continue to work with each investigating agency until causes can be determined."

Randy Harris, a fire and explosion investigator with Fay Engineering who is not working on this case, said if a line is cut, gas can make its way into a home where there are many possible ignition sources. However, he said the ignition source is not the main issue.

“We may never figure out what the actual ignition source was, it doesn’t really matter. The cause of the explosion was the gas leak. That’s the number-one thing to figure out: Where the gas leak was and what was the cause,” he said

Harris says investigators will also be checking to see if the gas lines were properly located and if equipment was functioning when any underground work was done.

Residents also endured a large fire at Heather Gardens in 2016.

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