Whiteman fire investigated

Cause of blaze at cabin still a mystery

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— Fire investigators checked the site of a cabin fire at Whiteman school on Monday to try to determine the cause of the blaze that killed two dogs trapped inside.

Jim Cooley, a fire inspector with the Steamboat Springs Fire Marshall's office, said he isn't ready yet to release an official finding about Saturday night's fire, although he said it was not suspicious.

Cooley said he's considering several sources as the cause of the fire, which apparently started in a corner of the cabin near the area of a space heater. The small cabin had no fireplace or stove and Cooley said the teaching intern living there, Ryan Gray, believes a space heater may have started the fire.

Whether the dogs could have done something such as chew a cord to ignite the residence is one possibility, but Cooley said the heater was not knocked over.

Cooley said he planned to check that possibility and investigate the electrical wiring of the cabin.

It might be the end of the week before inspectors will be able to make a determination, partly because Gray is out of town for a few days. Cooley said he also might need a few days to look for clues in the ash and ceiling insulation that was torn out in the fire suppression effort.

The fire was contained within the walls of the cabin and firefighter Paul Yonekawa said crews pulled down ceiling materials from the inside.

The log cabin was covered with a metal roof that didn't allow the heavy rains Saturday to wet the walls.

"One disadvantage of working on wood is you wet down the outer surface but the gut has glowing wood below the surface," Yonekawa said.

The rain did soak nearby aspen trees and the forest floor, giving firefighters time to stop the fire from spreading to a house 30 yards away.

Cooley said he had no evidence that the cabin was unsafe, although he wasn't sure if and when it was inspected. He said the main buildings at Whiteman were inspected for fire safety, but the small residences might not have been.

He could not confirm on Monday the presence of a smoke detector, although headmaster Walt Daub said the cabin did have one.

School officials are not worried about the safety of the other buildings on campus, Daub said. Whiteman has upgraded several older buildings with new alarms and sprinkler systems, and all newer buildings have been inspected by the fire marshal. "I think we're in pretty good shape and taking the precautions we should," Daub said.

The fire at the historic cabin was discovered by boys in a dormitory at approximately 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Gray was not at home and school staff tried to put out the fire with small extinguishers. By the time firefighters arrived in less than five minutes, 10-foot-high flames were shooting out of the cabin.

Gray's black Labrador mix, Pele, was 8 months old. His sister's Australian shepherd, Polo, was 7 years old. Officials believe they died of smoke inhalation.


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

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