Tree Haus fire probe continues

Sheriff's office said arson has not been ruled out in Dec. 9 blaze

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The Routt County Sheriff's Office has not ruled out arson as the cause of a Dec. 9 fire started in a Tree Haus home.

The investigation is continuing as the sheriff's office works on the case with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Steamboat fire marshall.

The fire destroyed the 3,600-square-foot home at 36853 Tree Haus Drive, which was owned by Jean and Jeffrey Wolf.

The homeowners recently had moved into a home in the Catamount area 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.

Neighbors have said the caretaker was Scott Rouda, who owned the home at 36897 Tree Haus Drive, which was heavily damaged in a fire in April. Rouda's house was for sale when it caught fire.

The cause of the April fire is under investigation, and Undersheriff Dan Taylor said preliminary results indicate the fire did not start by accident.

"When you have two homes and a common denominator, you have to look at things fairly close," Taylor said.

The CBI arrived Wednesday to investigate the Dec. 9 fire and wrapped up its on-scene investigation Friday. The insurance company also investigated the scene.

Sheriff's office investigator Ken Kling said the CBI collected evidence from the scene.

Taylor said that even when a structure is destroyed by fire, evidence remains at almost every scene. Oftentimes, the point of origin of a fire can be determined by major appliances, which, when they get very hot, lean toward where the fire started.

Sheriff John Warner said the CBI brought in dogs to sniff for gasoline at the scene. Witnesses, who were at the fire before the house was fully engulfed in flames, also were interviewed.

The fire was reported at 10:30 p.m. Dec. 9, in the middle of a heavy snowstorm.

Steep, icy roads hampered the Steamboat Springs Fire Department efforts to reach the house. Two firetrucks were not able to reach the burning home and a wrecker that was called to help a fire engine stuck in the snow slid off the road on the way down.

When firefighters arrived at the scene, the home was fully engulfed in flames. Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said that even if the trucks were able to reach the fire, there was not enough water near the home to fight the blaze.

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

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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