Cause of fire undetermined

Tree Haus blaze destroyed a home Monday night

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Firefighters likely would not have been able to save a Tree Haus home Monday night even if firetrucks had not been hampered by steep, icy roads, said Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble.

"It was fully involved (in flames)," he said. "Even if we had got a truck there, there was not adequate water. The outcome would have been the same."

The cause of the fire, which destroyed the 3,600-square-foot home at 36853 Tree Haus Drive, has not been determined, Routt County Sheriff's Investigator Ken Klinger said Tuesday. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has been called to determine the fire's cause and point of origin; investigators are expected to arrive in Steamboat today or Thursday, Klinger said.

Until then, the property has been cordoned off and deputies are patrolling it. Klinger said every fire is treated as a crime scene until proven otherwise.

"We investigate any structure fire -- particularly when the house burns to the ground -- for cause and point of origin," he said.

Jean and Jeffrey Wolf own the home but could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The homeowners had recently moved into a home in the Catamount area, Klinger said, and their Tree Haus property was being looked after by a caretaker, who was "there off and on" and was not home at the time of the fire.

Klinger would not name the caretaker, but neighbors said Scott Rouda was looking after the house. Coincidentally, Rouda's home at 36897 Tree Haus Drive, which he had offered for sale, was heavily damaged in a fire in April. The cause of that fire has not been determined.

The Tree Haus subdivision, outside of city limits, was built in the 1970s and has its own private water, road and sewer systems maintained by the Tree Haus Metro District.

Road grades within the subdivision in places exceed the 7 percent maximum grade that is considered standard in modern road construction.

Metro district board member Bob Geer said the subdivision roads had been plowed three times Monday to combat the heavy, wet snow. He rode along on the last round about 5 p.m., when plowing was accompanied by scoria application for traction.

By the time the fire was reported at 10:30 p.m. and fire crews responded, the steep, switchbacked road was too slick for two firetrucks to reach the burning home, Struble said. A wrecker called to help a fire engine stuck in the snow slid off the road itself on the way down, Struble said.

Metro District President Tom Garrett said Tree Haus homes receive gravity-fed water from a holding tank at the top of the hill above the subdivision. He said the district contracts with the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District to monitor its system and that he was unaware of any problems with water pressure.

Once firefighters arrived at the scene, the home was fully engulfed in flames.

Ten firefighters who were shuttled to the scene by an ambulance were able to use one, low-pressure hose to save a detached garage.

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