Aug 8, 2014 12:36 AM by Maddie Garrett

Fire, Explosions at El Paso County Business Under Investigation

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is investigating a four-alarm fire at the Valken Sports building located on Lake Shore Court. The building, which is a sales facility for paintball and airsoft guns and accessories, caught fire around 2:30pm Thursday afternoon. It took more than 50 firefighters from several departments to get it under control by 4:30pm that afternoon.

The building contained a lot of CO2 canisters and tanks with compressed gas in them, creating a hazardous situation for firefighters.

"People could actually see the flames in the City even though this fire is in the County," said Cimarron Hills Fire Chief Matt Love.

Owner of the building, Jennie Ortega, said when she arrived the building was fully involved.

"By the time I got here it was just billowing smoke, just terrible black, grey, ugly stuff," she recalled.

Ortega and her husband told News 5 they've been renting the building to Valken Sports for 12 years.

"They were in there when we purchased it, great people," she said.

Valken sells paintball and airsoft guns, and while they don't assemble them at the building, compressed gas canisters are stored in a warehouse there.

"Those canisters were exploding throughout the fire," said Chief Love.

Manuel Venzor was working outside and heard those explosions loud and clear. He described the popping as sounding like gun shots.

"And then it just kept exploding, bang bang bang," said Venzor. "And then this lady started screaming oh my god, I thought somebody got shot. But then a couple minutes later I saw flames coming out of the roof of the building."

Those explosions made it dangerous for firefighters, who had to stay a safe distance back from the building. Chief Love explained, while the bottles might have been the cause of the explosion, something still under investigation, they certainly fueled the flames.

"Anytime we put compressed gas in those bottles it's a hazard to us and obviously we can see it could have contributed to the fire's start but it at least contributed to the fire's growth and the safety for firefighters," he said.

News 5 asked if those bottles were stored safely. Chief Love said it's too early to tell, but investigators will be looking into that.

"So I can't say if things were stored properly, improperly or if that was an indicator or not," said Love.

Rebuilding for Ortega will be tough, because the fire burned extremely hot inside the building, doing significant damage.

"We'll just take one day at a time, everyone's safe, that's what's important," she said.

There were no injuries in the fire, everyone in the building got out safely. Some firefighters did get overheated and received treatment from AMR paramedics.

Chief Love said the fire was contained mainly to the warehouse portion of the building, where all of the compressed gas canisters are stored. That area is also the hardest to get to because of the damage and instability of the area.

Fire crews will remain on scene of the fire through Thursday night and into Friday, keeping a watch for any flare ups. Investigators will also likely be at the building Friday, trying to figure out exactly what caused the fire.



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