An Oak Creek Fire Protection District firefighter pauses while shoveling snow and debris from the site of a home explosion in Oak Creek on Wednesday morning. The blast and subsequent fiery collapse killed one male occupant in the house.

Photo by Brian Ray

An Oak Creek Fire Protection District firefighter pauses while shoveling snow and debris from the site of a home explosion in Oak Creek on Wednesday morning. The blast and subsequent fiery collapse killed one male occupant in the house.

Oak Creek man remembered for service

Dennis Eugene Harris was killed in home explosion early Wednesday

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Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek Fire Protection District firefighters work to remove debris from the site of a home explosion in Oak Creek on Wednesday morning. The blast and subsequent fiery collapse killed one male occupant in the house.

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A Steamboat Springs firefighter hustles to assist in removing debris from the site of a home explosion in Oak Creek on Wednesday morning. The blast and subsequent fiery collapse killed one male occupant in the house.

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A dog left homeless by a house explosion in Oak Creek on Wednesday morning waits patiently as firefighters work to extinguish hot spots at the homesite.

— A 64-year-old Oak Creek man killed Wednesday in an apparent propane gas explosion was remembered for his kind nature and service to local senior citizens.

Dennis Eugene Harris, 64, was at home at 208 Carbon Ave. in Oak Creek when the explosion occurred just after 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Harris, known as Geno or Gene to friends and neighbors, was a shuttle driver for the Routt County Council on Aging.

Harris lived alone with his dog, Buddy, who escaped the explosion. For the past three years, Harris drove the council's South Routt van and did part-time cement work.

Shelley Orrell, the council's program director, praised Harris for his work with the elderly, which included providing transportation for the council's senior lunch program, exercise classes and other social activities.

"He's been an outstanding driver, great with outreach and getting people to come," Orrell said. "He always went above and beyond."

The shuttle van Harris used to transport South Routt senior citizens was parked at his home at the time of the explosion. Many of its windows were blown out.

When the explosion hit, the walls of the home blew out and the roof collapsed, reducing the home to burning rubble, Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup said. The ensuing fire was contained by noon, though fire crews continued to extinguish hot spots into the afternoon, Wisecup said.

Harris is believed to have survived the initial explosion. Crews reportedly heard him calling for help when they arrived on scene but were unable to locate anyone in the wreckage until the afternoon.

Harris' body was found in the crawlspace underneath his house, Wisecup said. It was unclear if he had been trying to do any work down there, as no one had heard of Harris having frozen water pipes or any other problems, he said.

Harris' preliminary cause of death is smoke inhalation, Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said. An autopsy is expected this weekend, he said.

The man's family was notified of his death Wednesday night, though Ryg noted that he still is awaiting dental records needed to confirm the identification.

Numerous law enforcement and emergency response agencies, including Oak Creek police, the Routt County Sheriff's Office, and fire crews from Oak Creek and Steamboat Springs responded to the scene Wednesday. Oak Creek Public Works crews also were on scene to help remove debris.

Although the fire was contained to Harris' residence, the blast shattered windows and skylights at nearby homes. One adjacent home sustained significant exterior damage on the side facing the explosion, Wisecup said.

A propane leak is believed to be the source of the explosion, but the official cause still is under investigation, Wisecup said.

Neighbors told investigators Harris' propane tank had been filled Monday, and several people in the area had reported smelling propane since, Wisecup said.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation will inspect the site Thursday morning, and it will be cordoned off as a crime scene until the investigation is complete, Wisecup said.

"Until CBI gets here and we begin to reconstruct, we won't really know much more," he said.

According to the Routt County Assessor's database, Peter Nauman of Steamboat Springs purchased the home at 208 Carbon Ave. in November 2004. The 674-square-foot, one-bedroom home had wood siding, according to the Assessor's Office sales record.

Wednesday's tragedy was the second devastating fire at a South Routt residence in about two months.

In December 2007, Phippsburg resident Kathy Foos, her son Jules Hedemark and her infant grandson narrowly escaped a fire that burned her house to the ground. The fire was started by ashes in the fireplace.

Two Yampa men were seriously injured in a propane explosion in May 2006. Mike Teters and Chuck Broadbent suffered severe second- and third-degree burns. The men were replacing a propane water heater in Teters' home when one of the men lit a match to check the draft.

Comments

francinefrank66 6 years, 6 months ago

If the neighbors smelled propane why didn't they call someone to check it out?

This is a terrible thing and I will be praying for the man's family.

I hope the lesson learned here is that if you think something is off, don't stand around and do nothing, call someone to check it out.

My father was a natural gas man for 42 years and I learned that if you smell something, call the company. It doesn't hurt to check for leaks and may save someone's life.

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innovated 6 years, 6 months ago

I am just crushed and heart broken. I will miss Geno from my core being. What a wonderful man. I look at Buddy's face and I sense him losing his best friend. A tragic end. I send prayers.

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Dave Ege 6 years, 6 months ago

Geno was a true friend. He also helped the handicapped, myself included, on a regular basis. He was welcome in my home anytime, and knew he didn't have to knock. He was a friend to my family for years. We will miss him very much.

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59hotmama69 6 years, 6 months ago

Why on such days as the 13th of febuary, notional love day, did we have to lose such a good friend... he was in all our hearts on this day when we heard the location of the explosion. Forever more will he remain in our hearts as the days grow old. We will dearly miss our beloved Geno for he was a great person and had a great heart. He will be missed but his soul will roam free. We all lost a great friend and buddy. Please remember this day as not olny the day of love but the day of loss. We will miss you forever more Geno..... lots of love

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rubysone 6 years, 6 months ago

The loss of this individual and property is truly a tragic event in your community, it is suspect that the cause of the explosion was due to the covering of the flow meter outside of the house with snow. These valves must remain uncovered to work properly, with the current snow cover it is a danger to anyone that has propane or natural gas in their home, please check your valves and be sure to keep them uncovered, they need an equalization of atmospheric pressure to function properly, being buried in snow can cause the valve to malfunction and dispense gas uncontrolled to the house leading to a build up of gas and potential for fire and or explosion! Perhaps the paper could publish a community service warning about this or someone could contact their fuel provider to put out a notice to have home owners to check their flow meters for obstruction. This simple notice could save others from this kind of loss.

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chastaylor 6 years, 6 months ago

We lost a good man on the 13th. Geno will be missed. Thanks to everyone for doing all they could to save him. It's a hard life up there in Oak Creek and will be harder without Geno's smile. Happy trails Geno.

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bellaitalia41 6 years, 6 months ago

I was Blessed to have known Geno My whole life, he was one of My 'Mannies' growing up (one of the very select & few entrusted with Myself and baby Brother) I remember so vividly those Beautiful Piercing Icy Blue Eyes of His! and that Million Dollar smile he posessed.. But mostly, What a Beautiful and kind Soul he was..Although I Know He is in a Better Place Now, He Will be so very missed by many.. Geno was one of those Souls that Make this a Better place! You Will Forever be in my Heart.. 'Uncle Geno' ..Love You Always & Forever ....'Neicie' /Denise Marquez

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eastboy 6 years, 6 months ago

Terribly sorry to read about Geno. Met him several times while out there and he was obviously a "giver" not a "taker". Have a good trip!

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Cresean Sterne 6 years, 6 months ago

The first time I met Geno, I met him with my dog Molson at Big Tunas Restaurant. You could tell that Buddy was his dog. They were so much alike. (kind,patient,understanding and one of the most laid back and easiest people you could talk to.) Geno you will always be missed and never forgoton Your smile will always be there. Love and prayers. crash

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