Denver Catholic Worker house fire displaces 12

An early morning fire destroyed a three-story Catholic Worker house in Denver last week, displacing 12 people including staff and guests.

The fire started around 3:45 a.m. Jan. 28 at the Denver Catholic Worker House on Welton Street in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, according to the local fire department.

Residents said the fire started in the back of the home before spreading to the inside of the house.

"There's no salvaging that house," said Marcus Hyde, a six-year volunteer who helps cook meals and plan activities once a week. "Some people walked out without shoes, wallets, ids... some people lost everything."  

According to live-in volunteer and house co-founder Loretto Sr. Anna Koop, 77, one of the residents smelled smoke and went downstairs to see what was happening. Koop said when the resident saw the fire, he ran upstairs and "pounded on each resident’s door and got each person out of their rooms."

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Everyone made it out safely, and one person was transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation, the Denver Fire Department said.

Red Cross was on site with a bus, where residents stayed "for hours" to keep warm, said Koop. They also gave residents $355 gift cards for hotels. Some residents are staying with friends and at other community housing until they find a new home, Koop said.

"There are some clear barriers to easily finding another house because the Denver market is just impossible," said Koop, citing high real estate prices.

The nine-bedroom house opened in 1978 for homeless people as part of the Catholic Worker Movement. It houses one family, two single males and two single females, as well as three live-in volunteers.

The house provides a "warm, loving center," while people get on their feet, said Koop.  

Koop, who wasn’t home at the time of the fire, is staying with a friend until other arrangements are made. She said she was planning to train another person to take over central responsibilities before the fire. "I would’ve stayed and as long as I can contribute something," said Koop. "The rest of my plan at the moment is to really support what I think will be the movement of the younger people in the community toward providing something new."

"We don’t have any long-term plans figured out yet," said Hyde. "Maybe there'll be funds donated, but we are really relying on lay people to make that happen."

The Denver Fire Department is still investigating the cause.

[Traci Badalucco is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Contact her at tbadalucco@ncronline.org.]


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