Investigator: St. Mary’s fire started intentionally

A fire Monday night at St. Mary’s Hospital that burned a patient and a hospital employee was started intentionally, a Grand Junction Fire Department investigator said Tuesday.

Investigator Joe Cordova said the fire was started with a cigarette lighter. He declined to say whether the patient started the fire but indicated the case will be forwarded to the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office for the filing of criminal charges.

The fire broke out around 10:45 p.m. Monday in a patient’s room on the fourth floor of the hospital’s Valley Zone, a section that houses medical and oncology patients. There was a patient inside the room and a total of 20 patients in that section of the hospital at the time of the blaze, said Dan Prinster, St. Mary’s vice president of planning and business development.

The patient was burned badly enough to be flown by the hospital’s CareFlight fixed-wing plane to the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. Prinster said the hospital’s policy calls for patients burned over a certain percentage of their body to be flown to a burn unit in Denver. He declined to identify that percentage or release any other information about the patient, including gender and condition.

The employee was burned but was less severely injured than the patient. She was treated in the emergency room and returned to work to finish her shift. St. Mary’s spokeswoman Samantha Moe said the employee asked that no other information be released about her.

Fire Department Capt. Eric Cox said the first crew on scene at the hospital found heavy smoke in the hallway. The fire already had been extinguished by the hospital’s sprinkler system, and employees were prepared with fire extinguishers just in case, Prinster said.

Prinster credited employees for evacuating and relocating patients to other rooms within an hour.

“They took control of the situation very quickly,” he said.

Hospital officials didn’t have an estimate on the amount of damage Tuesday. Prinster said the fire, which was contained to the patient’s room, caused some smoke damage. He said the type of floor tile the hospital uses doesn’t absorb much water, so water damage was limited.

He said crews are cleaning the section of the hospital affected by the fire. He said parts of the unit could reopen within a day or two, but unless the rooms are needed, he said the hospital likely will keep the entire unit closed until it is fully cleaned.


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