'I was terrified': Neighbors recall fire just feet from their homes at Jackass Hill Park

Fireworks incidents have plagued area, residents seek solutions

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First, there came a loud "BANG," then Dawn McGonagle saw the flames just feet from her home. 

"I looked out the door, and then I grabbed the phone," McGonagle said. 

With firefighters on their way, several neighbors ran outside to fight the fire with a hose, an extinguisher and their feet, stomping and dousing the flames as fast as they could. 

The grass fire at Jackass Hill Park in Littleton on March 24 burned for just minutes, with the flames igniting around 9:40 p.m. and out by about 10 p.m. according to South Metro Fire Rescue spokesperson Eric Hurst.

But for some neighbors that night, the situation could have easily spiraled into disaster.

"I was terrified, absolutely terrified," McGonagle said, with the nearby flames evoking scenes from the devastating Marshall Fire in Boulder County that burned more than 1,000 homes in late December. 

"You start thinking 'what do I need to take?'" McGonagle said. "That went through my mind, because you never know." 

Littleton police, who were also on scene during the incident, believe the fire was caused by a bottle rocket firework, but found no suspects, according to spokesperson Sheera Poelman. Under Colorado law, any fireworks that leave the ground, such as bottle rockets, are illegal. 

“As always, we respond when we can to our best ability, and if there’s any criminality we try to investigate it," Poelman said, who urged residents to continue to report future issues. "If you see anything, say something."

Residents said the March 24 incident was far from the first time they've dealt with fireworks. 

"I was watching TV and I heard the firework go off, one big explosion. And I remember thinking there goes another one," said David Sprunt, who lives just a few houses down from McGonagle on Sunset Drive. 

Sprunt said fireworks have been a frequent problem at the park for roughly the past five years, though it's been "more often than it used to." 

Residents began raising the issue in the summer of 2019 when they notified South Suburban Parks and Recreation, which owns and manages the park. 

Littleton City Councilmember At-Large Pam Grove, who sits on the South Suburban Parks and Recreation Subcommittee, said she has been aware of the issue for more than a year and on March 8, 2021, sat in on a neighborhood meeting to discuss possible remedies. 

Along with fireworks, residents have complained of trash, smoking and general disruptive behavior from park-goers, especially late at night. It's led some to ask for a reduction in park hours, more signage about rules and possible patrols. 

“It’s a tricky problem, because you want people to be able to use the park responsibly," Sprunt said. 

Grove said she has "a lot of empathy for those residents who live by the park" and that "some people come, often late at night, and destroy the park."

“I personally would like to make a plea to the people that use this park to be respectful to other park users," Grove said, adding that she hopes South Suburban will take action on some short-term solutions. 

In an email statement, South Suburban said it will "meet with the representatives from the neighborhood in the next few weeks to share solutions and receive feedback."

"This is in addition to the long-term site specific plan South Suburban is creating for Jackass Hill Park," the statement continued. "SSPRD has hired Architerra Group to lead the process that begins Friday, April 1. The process will include at least two public input meetings and a mailed survey. The plan aims to be completed in fall 2022."

McGonagle said she respects the process, but hopes she and other residents can see solutions soon. 

"It's been slower than we had hoped for," McGonagle said. "But I am thankful that they are meeting with us and are considering options to help us. I think we're making progress." 

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