Two dogs killed in Whiteman fire

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— A cross wrapped in yellow police tape marks the grave of two dogs killed in a fire at the Lowell Whiteman School over the weekend.

The dogs were trapped inside a cabin on the road to the Strawberry Hot Springs that burned down late Saturday night. The cabin was used by Ryan Gray, an intern at the school. Gray's dog, Pele, a black lab mix, and his sister's dog probably died from smoke inhalation, Steamboat Springs firefighter Paul Yonekawa said.

"They were probably overcome by toxic gases in the smoke," Yonekawa said. "It was obviously traumatic for the owners, so they picked out an appropriate location and we buried them."

Before leaving the scene of the fire at 2 a.m. Sunday, firefighters buried the dogs in a small grave near the charred remains of the historic log cabin.

"It meant a lot," Whiteman headmaster Walt Daub said. "They didn't have to do that, but he was pretty distraught."

Gray lost practically everything he owned in the fire, most importantly, his dog, but also most of his clothes, his CDs and his mountain bike. He's staying with his parents in Steamboat, and Daub said anyone who wants to help Gray can call the school at 879-1350.

Daub said the cause of the fire has not been officially determined. Because Sunday was Easter, Daub said he didn't expect to know the cause from fire investigators until today, possibly.

Jim Cooley from the Steamboat Springs Fire Marshall's office responded to the fire but was not available for comment Sunday.

The cabin had been at the school for at least 50 years, Daub estimated. Parts of it are still standing, but not livable because the logs are charred and burned away in places. Daub said the cabin, which Whiteman was in the initial stages of having declared a Colorado historic building, will need to be torn down. The cabin is past the main buildings at the complex of the school, in the woods past the boy's dormitory.

Daub said the cabin had a fire alarm, but Gray had gone to Steamboat for about an hour to eat and pick up a student.

Flames 10 feet high were shooting out the front of the building by the time Yonekawa arrived.

"By the time somebody sees the flames in a situation like this, there's already so much ignited," Yonekawa said. "By the time anybody noticed a problem, the contents of that room would have been very hot."

Three young boys in a dormitory reported the fire to authorities at approximately 10:30 p.m. and firefighters were on scene in about four minutes, according to information from the sheriff's office.

Firefighters struggled for more than three hours to ensure the blaze was contained to the cabin. A two-story house was approximately 30 yards away and a propane tank was within 20 yards, Yonekawa said.

The fire gathered strength in air pockets between layers of roof. Yonekawa said the original tin roof had been covered with layers of two-by-four planks, creating three-inch gaps in between layers.

Yonekawa said dry hydrants hooked up to a pond on site were not usable and firefighters had to shuttle water from Strawberry Park Elementary School, using a total of about 1,200 gallons.

West Routt firefighters were "a great asset," assisting with water and equipment, he added. In all, about 20 firefighters responded.


-- To reach Michelle Bales, call 871-4208 or e-mail mbales@amigo.net

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