Fire destroys workshop

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— A fire destroyed a maintenance building near Rabbit Ears Pass on Friday morning and sent a local man to the hospital with minor injuries.

Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Bob Struble said a witness called 911 after seeing thick plumes of black smoke and flames coming from the building in the 31000 block of East U.S. Highway 40. The small maintenance building was on a residential property east of the base of Rabbit Ears Pass.

Routt County Sheriff John Warner said 62-year-old Doug Rice of Steamboat Springs was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center for minor burns on his face, cuts on his hands and smoke and heat inhalation. Rice was treated for his injuries and released from the hospital Friday afternoon.

The building, which held tools and was used as a workshop, was destroyed by the time firefighters and medics arrived at the scene, Struble said.

Warner said Rice was working on a friend's snowmobile in the maintenance building when the fire began. According to police reports, Rice turned the snowmobile onto its side to remove a bolt from the engine and went outside the building to get another part when he heard a loud popping noise and turned around to see the building in flames.

Struble said the exact cause of the fire is under investigation. However, he said the fire may have started when gasoline leaking from the snowmobile was ignited.

Warner would not speculate about the fire's cause, but he said the maintenance building was heated by a propane furnace, which could have been an ignition source.

Struble said 10 firefighters worked for several hours to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to other buildings and a nearby trailer. A home on the property never was in danger.

"It was free-burning when we got there," Struble said. "Debris had already begun to fall in on the building."

Firefighters soaked the building and the surrounding area with water to prevent the fire from spreading.

Steamboat resident Jason Cobb said the fire took place on his parent's property. Rice was working on Cobb's snowmobile when the fire started.

Cobb said he did not know how the fire started, adding that he had heard several theories about possible causes.

"I don't know which one is right," Cobb said. "I don't know what the end result is going to be. I hope (the investigators) will be able to figure out what started it or what happened."

Cobb said Rice is "like family" and that he is glad he was not badly injured.

There is no reason to believe the fire was set intentionally, Warner said

"It was totally an accident, a really unfortunate one," Struble said.

Struble said the structure fire was only the second such blaze firefighters have responded to in about a year. The last fire occurred three weeks ago on Routt County Road 14 when a small shed used for storage was destroyed.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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