Fire guts condominium building

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— Several adult children of the late Doak Walker were among 16 people who were safely evacuated from The Ridge condominiums early Monday morning after a fire gutted one of the eight condo units and damaged three others.

Fire Marshall Jay Muhme is investigating the cause of the blaze, which was first noticed at about 3:30 a.m. Three of the condos were occupied at the time of the fire, and all were evacuated safely thanks to an alarm system that functioned properly and an alert security guard. The only injury connected with the fire was the sprained ankle suffered by firefighter Michael Arce.

John Shipley of Johnston Shipley Management confirmed that one of the three condominiums was occupied by the adult children of Walker. The Heismann Trophy winner from SMU died at the Extended Care Center here in late September. Subsequently, a new extended care facility now under construction was named after him. Walker siblings Russ, Scott and Laurie were here in connection with a weekend golf tournament being played to raise money for the Doak Walker Care Center.

Members of the Walker family were flying back to Dallas on Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Most of Steamboat was oblivious to the tall flames that leapt out of the roof of the condominium building situated on Storm Meadows Drive, which winds steeply up a hill overlooking Ski Time Square.

Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Bob Struble said 22 Steamboat firefighters and five more from the West Routt Fire Protection District responded to the blaze. They were able to confine damage from the flames primarily to one, top-level unit where the fire apparently broke out.

"It was a good stop," Struble said. "The guys did a good job. The guys from Hayden really helped out."

Firefighters stayed on the scene until afternoon, making certain no hot spots remained. Struble predicted that Muhme would let the building cool down overnight and begin investigating the cause of the fire on Tuesday. Struble said he had no reason to suspect arson.

The flames also damaged a roof overhanging a roof on a lower unit, as well as the roof and a common wall of an adjacent upper-level unit. Two downstairs units also sustained water damage, but remain structurally sound, Struble said.

The four eastern most units were largely undamaged.

Jane and Charles Stover of Taylor, Texas, were sound asleep in one of the eastern most units when they were awakened by the racket of the combined smoke and heat detectors.

"Man, when that thing went off, we thought, 'What the devil?'" Charles said.

The Stovers were visiting the condo owned by their daughter in order to escape the Texas heat. A third unit was occupied by Harriet and Dave McDonalds and extended family members.

A number of the occupants of the condos were assisted in getting out of the building by Dan Retz of Security Plus. Retz said he had walked around the outside of The Ridge at about 2:15 a.m. on his regular rounds, and noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

When the fire alarm was received by Western Security, Retz was paged and arrived ahead of police and firefighters.

"It was somewhat chaotic," Retz said. "Some people were taking their suitcases out of the building and some were trying to take down the detectors," so they could go back to sleep.

Retz said his first priority was to make certain that everyone in the occupied units was alerted to the fire. His daily log told him how many people were staying in which units. The only unit he could not check was the one that was already burning.

Firefighters were confronted with a difficult situation when they arrived on the scene. The Ridge is perched on a steep hill and has a front elevation of two stories, with four stories exposed at the back of the building. Initially, Struble said, firefighters attacked the blaze both from the front and back.

Their mission was complicated by the building's unusual roof design, Struble said. It was built of several layers of plywood and insulation plus drywall, without the typical "dead air space" under the roof trusses. The roof was finished with cedar shake shingles.

"We got ahead of it and stopped it, but the only way was to basically take the roof apart," Struble said.

The Steamboat chief said the firefighters from Hayden arrived in a heavy rescue truck that has a special "cascading" oxygen system that helped firefighters replenish their oxygen supply while they battled the smoky blaze.

Struble credited the alarm system with doing its job.

"It worked exactly like it was supposed to."

Shipley said the building is about 20 years old.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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