Fire's aftermath draws unwanted crowds

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— The morning after a large fire destroyed two homes on Spring Valley Drive, hundreds of people flocked to see the aftermath. Some even walked into the burned building, prompting authorities to restrict access for safety and to protect the integrity of the scene.

"It's not a smart idea to walk in there," Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said. "You don't know if it's structurally sound. One step might hold, and the next step might not be there."

Tuesday's curious onlookers were but a fraction of the hundreds who gathered Monday night to watch firefighters battle the blaze. The large crowd hampered firefighters' ability to respond to the fire, Struble said.

"It slowed everything down. We had trouble getting the trucks down the road, and we had to watch for cars and people walking," he said. "I understand the curiosity factor, but even with their best intentions, it hindered emergency response."

When responding to the fire, fire trucks approached the homes using two routes, one down Meadow Lane and another down the more direct Walton Creek Road.

"We wanted to approach the fire in different directions, so that we could hit different hydrants," Struble said.

No one was injured in the fire, which started about 8:30 p.m. in The Enclave subdivision. It was contained by 9:55 p.m., but firefighters continued to work until 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, Struble said.

When gas vales were replaced later Tuesday morning, firefighters returned to the homes as a precautionary measure.

Inspectors from the fire department are waiting until insurance investigators arrive before they examine the scene to determine the fire's cause, Fire Inspector Doug Shaffer said.

One of the things inspectors will investigate is whether recent staining of the house by painting contractors contributed to the blaze. However, they will investigate several other possible causes, as well.

"Right now, we haven't ruled anything out," Shaffer said.

Routt County Regional Building Department members inspected the homes Tuesday morning and made an initial determination that they were built to code, Shaffer said.

By noon Tuesday, yellow police tape barred curious onlookers from the blackened wreckage. The homes' charred frames remained, but their roofs had collapsed inward, lights hung limply from wires and ashen beams hung at precarious angles. Amidst a thick carpet of ash, a wooden door survived, seemingly untouched by the fire.

A chain-link fence was being built around the homes Tuesday to prevent people from entering, Struble said.

"Stay away," said Tom Simmins, general manager of Big Country Resorts, which manages the homes. "If just a gust of wind came along, any of this could fall at any time."

Also, authorities are investigating the cause of the fire and spectators could disrupt the scene, he said.

In addition to two homes that were destroyed, the fire heavily damaged two other units, and officials don't know at this time if they can be salvaged, Simmins said.

The fire started at the end unit of a five-unit building and spread to three adjoining units. No one was in the five-plex when the fire started, and all of the units are owned by out-of-town residents. Marlene and Kenneth Richmond of Wilmette, Ill., the owners of the home where the fire started, were in town at the time of the fire. None of the other owners was in Steamboat on Monday.

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