Steamboat Springs Local and state authorities are investigating a construction dynamite blast that sent flying debris on nearby homes and also hit a 6-year-old girl in the head.
At about noon Wednesday, Duckels Construction set off dynamite within the third phase of the Silver Spur Subdivision, which sent flying pieces of shale and dirt clumps onto nearby homes on the north end of Steamboat II.
"It was raining dirt," said Pam Pierce, whose daughter Abbey was struck in the head by a piece of flying debris. "It was unbelievable and surreal. I am just glad she was not hit by anything bigger. It was a tragedy that luckily didn't happen."
Pierce said she was in the kitchen of her home in the 27000 block of Moonlight Way and her twin girls were playing in the front yard when she heard the blast.
"It sounded 10 times as loud as a sonic boom," Pierce said. "It shook the house. The next thing I heard were the girls crying."
The girls, who were playing on a swing set, described the blast to their mother as looking like a "volcanic eruption," Pierce said.
Abbey Pierce suffered a bump to her head but did not need to be taken to a hospital, Routt County Sheriff John Warner said.
However, the blast did cause damage to seven homes, two vehicles and two sheds on Moonlight Way, Warner said.
Moonlight Way is adjacent to the land the firm is currently preparing for development as the third phase of the subdivision. The rear of the homes abut the property.
"Right now, it is too early to give a cost estimate," Warner said of the damage. "But the cost is going up pretty quickly at this point."
Warner said his office, along with the State Department of Labor, are investigating the blast. As of Thursday evening, Warner said he could give limited information but expects to release more today.
So far, the investigation has revealed the construction firm, owned by Fred Duckels, was blasting shale rock in the ground to install water and sewer pipes within the subdivision. Duckels is licensed to set off explosives, Warner said.
On Thursday evening, Duckels did not give an excuse for what happened.
"It was a mistake," Duckels said. "We can't offer any defense for it. We certainly don't take it lightly."
He said he has been blasting for about 40 years and never once experienced an incident like the one he did Wednesday.
"This doesn't sit well with me," he said.
Duckels said a crew was drilling a trench line for the water and sewer pipes when conditions changed and the blast sent rocks flying, he said.
After the blast, members of the crew attempted to contact every homeowner whose property may have been damaged. Warner's office was not called to the scene to investigate until Thomas Cox reported he found a hole in his home's roof at about 3:30 p.m.
Neighbors Mark and Annie Knowe arrived at their home from a vacation Wednesday afternoon and knew immediately something was wrong.
"You could see it everywhere," Annie Knowe said of the clumps of dirt and rocks in her yard. "It is unreal."
Knowe said workers went onto his property and swept his driveway and removed debris.
"By them sending people onto private property and leaving people with a mystery when they got home is unbelievable," Knowe said.
When the couple ventured into their backyard, they found their wooden fence splintered in two places, a bird bath shattered, a concrete driveway cracked and a vehicle damaged.
"We are one of the lucky ones," Mark Knowe said.
Other neighbors were not as fortunate. Ashley Gruber, who lives next door to the Knowes, had a shed on her property damaged significantly. Flying debris put a hole in the roof.
Broken windows and roof damage was also reported by other neighbors. Duckels said his firm's insurance company will be working with residents who had property damaged.
Along with the property damage, residents were disturbed the firm did not notify the neighborhood dynamite blasts would be occurring.
"Last summer, when they did similar work, notices were sent to every residence and a notice was put up at the entrance of the subdivision," Mark Knowe said. "It was very detailed. This time, we were never contacted. I find it appalling."
Duckels admitted residents were not notified of the blast and said that too, "was a mistake."