ATF begins investigating Windsor Mill fire

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WINDSOR, Colo. -- It stood for nearly 120 years, battered by a tornado nine years ago, then damaged by fire two nights ago.

But Tuesday, there was an infusion of federal investigative help to the small northern Colorado town of Windsor -- where Sunday, a large fire devastated an iconic building.

The town had been eagerly awaiting the reopening of the mill later this year. That time frame won’t happen now.

But town officials say the mill will rise from the ashes thanks, in part, to the help from about 30 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents working to determine why the historic structure burned down.

Fire couldn’t destroy the affection residents of Windsor have for a building that stood since 1899.

“It’s really disheartening. What could have been,” resident Bruce Larrow said.

What could have been was redevelopment of the mill this year as a mixed-use space for several businesses after a tornado damaged the building in 2008.

“Halfway survived the tornado, to be built back up to what it was. Now, to be burned back down. It’s sad,” said a resident who didn’t want to be identified.

But that sadness is softened by a slew of federal agents who bring their fire investigation expertise from around the country.

“What will occur is investigators will start from the exterior -- from the least damage, to the most. Three-hundred-sixty degrees all the way around the building,” ATF assistant special agent in charge Terry Henderson said.

The ATF also brings in the funding to pay for heavy equipment to get inside the collapsed, still smoldering structure, to find clues to a cause.

“We go where the evidence leads us. It’s way too early. It will take days to get through the fire scene,” Henderson said.

It will take longer for the building’s owners to decide how they will move forward. But they know they’ll be back.

“I think that is a testament to the endurance of this building and testament to this community. We were resilient in our last tornado. And I think we’ll arise again during this emergency as well,” Windsor Mayor Kristie Melendez said.

“Everything happens for a reason. This will be a way to restart. A new lease on life for the old mill,” Larrow said.

The town had committed about $3.5 million in public money to redevelop the property. That money is still available.

Henderson said agents will remain in Windsor for several days, likely through the weekend.

But as far as determining a cause, Henderson couldn’t give a time frame.

“It takes as long as it takes,” Henderson said.

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