Colorado Catholic retreat center seriously damaged in fire

A photo taken around 9 a.m., Nov. 14th, of the fire at the St. Malo Retreat Center near Allenspark, Colo. Photo courtesy of                 Bill Demmon
A photo taken around 9 a.m., Nov. 14th, of the fire at the St. Malo Retreat Center near Allenspark, Colo. Photo courtesy of Bill Demmon

.- Camp Saint Malo, a historic Catholic retreat center in the Archdiocese of Denver, Colo., has suffered serious damage in a Nov. 14 fire that is being blamed on gas buildup in a chimney.

“This is a very, very tragic loss, because many emblematic elements of the Church in Colorado were here at St. Malo, and most of them have been lost to the fire,” said Jose Ambrozic, director of the Saint Malo Catholic Retreat, Conference, and Spiritual Center,

“Nevertheless,” Ambrozic told CNA Nov. 14, “the Church is much more than its buildings, so we will be back whenever God wants, serving as we have been doing in the Catholic community of Colorado and beyond.”

Ambrozic, four of his fellow consecrated members in the Christian Life Movement, and one aspirant to the community, saw the flames as they returned to their residence after Mass on Monday morning.

The blaze, which reportedly started around 7:45 a.m., caused no injuries or deaths, however the movement's brothers living at St. Malo lost all their belongings.

Three members of the maintenance and kitchen staff also escaped safely from the site, which was otherwise empty. Guests at the retreat house had been sent home on Sunday because of a power outage caused by high wind gusts.

By 11 a.m. on Monday, firefighters reported that they had contained the fire that began with an explosion on the roof of the retreat center's main building. But its lounge, dining room, kitchen, library, and common areas had burned and collapsed, along with a small chapel on the building's third floor.

The fire did not affect the Church of St. Catherine of Siena, a well-known Colorado landmark on the property. But firefighters say the retreat center may be totally lost because of the structural damage, even though three floors of the lodging area remain standing.

While they have not officially confirmed a cause, Estes Park and Allenspark firefighters believe the fire started when flammable gasses built up inside a long chimney and ignited. The determination of the official cause will be made known once an investigation is completed.

As they battled the fire, firefighters encountered difficulties due to continued high winds and, according to some reports, ran out of water.

Built as a camp for young people during the 1930s, Camp St. Malo was renovated into a conference center during the 1980s. Blessed John Paul II stayed in room 314 of the retreat house during his 1993 visit to Denver for World Youth Day.

That room remains intact following the containment of the fire. Many photographs and other mementos of the Pope's visit, however, have been lost.

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