Steamboat resident and American Red Cross volunteer Sarah Cherry, left, talks with Carlos Nataren, right, and Abel Gamarra, center, about clothing and housing options Sunday evening. Nataren and Gamarra are two of 18 people displaced by the Saturday fire at their duplex home at Fourth and Oak streets.

Photo by Mike Lawrence

Steamboat resident and American Red Cross volunteer Sarah Cherry, left, talks with Carlos Nataren, right, and Abel Gamarra, center, about clothing and housing options Sunday evening. Nataren and Gamarra are two of 18 people displaced by the Saturday fire at their duplex home at Fourth and Oak streets.

Steamboat tenants see help after duplex fire

Local businesses, volunteers organizing aid for 18 displaced by blaze

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To help

Sarah Cherry, a local volunteer for the American Red Cross, said the best way to donate items for the 18 people affected by Saturday’s duplex fire is through LIFT-UP of Routt County, 2125 Curve Court on Steamboat Springs’ west side. Call LIFT-UP’s donation center at 970-879-3374, or LIFT-UP administration at 970-870-0727. The donation center is closed on Mondays, but is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. LIFT-UP’s food bank is open from 1 to 5 p.m. today.

— Several local businesses and volunteers are finding ways to help those displaced by Saturday’s fire at an Old Town duplex, but many challenges lie ahead.

Sarah Cherry, of Steamboat Springs, volunteers locally through the regional American Red Cross office in Fort Collins. Cherry said Sunday that 18 people “lost everything” in the Saturday afternoon fire at a duplex at Fourth and Oak streets in Steamboat. On Sunday evening, several of the tenants scoured through the duplex’s smoke-filled rooms looking for salvageable items.

Others simply stood on the sidewalk outside. Many, if not all, were wearing the clothes they fled the fire in Saturday.

Eighteen is a greater tally than the nine people — plus a dog, Ozo — that initial reports said were displaced by the blaze. Cherry said the duplex included a basement apartment for which she did not have a definite address.

One side of the duplex housed a family of about eight, she said, while the other side housed five people in the ground-level apartment and five more in the basement below.

Cherry said the basement apartment had no flooring —just a carpet on top of mud.

Carlos Nataren, originally from Honduras, said he’s lived in Steamboat for five years and works at More Lumber near Milner. He lived in the basement of the duplex. Other roommates who live in the duplex include Abel Gamarra, of Peru, and another from El Salvador, Nataren said. At least three men in the duplex work at More Lumber. Oscar Hernandez, who lived in the family side of the duplex, said he works local construction jobs.

Cherry spent part of Sunday evening trying to find sturdy shoes for Nataren so that he could go to work this morning. Nataren only had the sandals on his feet after the fire.

Cherry said the 18 tenants, which include at least three school-aged children, stayed at the Alpiner Lodge on Saturday and Sunday nights. LIFT-UP of Routt County paid for the discounted rooms Saturday and the Red Cross paid for Sunday’s lodging, Cherry said.

“The Alpiner gave us a great rate, and they’ve been really helpful,” Cherry said.

She said Backcountry Pro­visions provided free lunches and Tequila’s Real Mexican Food provided free dinners Sunday. Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter has chipped in, as well. But the tenants’ lodging for tonight is uncertain, Cherry said, and could require her and other local Red Cross volunteers to set up cots in a school or other available space.

“We might have to open a shelter,” Cherry said.

No one was injured when the duplex caught fire at about 4:20 p.m. Saturday.

Steamboat Springs Police Department and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue personnel said Sunday that there was no update yet on a cause of the fire, which Fire Marshal Jay Muhme said started in the basement.

Residents of the duplex said Saturday that there might have been an explosion in the basement before the fire, which gutted the apartments and coated them in smoke.

Cherry said no fund has been set up yet for the tenants, but donations could be channeled through LIFT-UP. Local Red Cross volunteer Joanne Erickson said efforts are under way to get vouchers for Walmart so the tenants could buy clothes.

Cherry said the greatest challenge will be helping the tenants find new housing.

“These families have lost everything … and they didn’t have a lot of resources to start out with,” Cherry said. “Any help that anybody could do with donations to LIFT-UP would be appreciated.”

Comments

greenwash 3 years, 11 months ago

THe challenge will be finding new housing????UMMMMM I dont know what plantet your on BUT practically every other house in Old Town is for rent , shouldnt be too tough.Glad they werent hurt.

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bellyup 3 years, 11 months ago

Perhaps you mean "you're", the correct contraction of the words "you are"?

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whatrutalkingabout 3 years, 11 months ago

Thank goodness no one was hurt in this tragic accident, but is anyone concerned that 18 people were inhabiting such a small property? The property's resources were being exhausted.

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MsRed 3 years, 11 months ago

I agree sounds like way too many people, according to witness statements the lower unit did not even have a floor..???what kind of crap is that??? I know it may cost the city some $$ but they really should check some of these older places out for these types of scenarios. As a person who is involved in property management in this town, I have seen inside a number of these places over the years- a lot of the rentals get "crammed" with tenants- many more are not even close to being to "code" (in regard to electrical and plumbing) I think the city could off set the cost to "police" this problem by fining home owners who do not come in to compliance, and by enforcing the city codes on occupancy for long term (a lease over 3 months) rentals, and fining accordingly for repeated violations. Maybe this could have been avoided.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 11 months ago

MsRed, Yeah, but to an extent the City ordinances allow packing people into apts or condos. City ordinance does not allow more than 3 adults unless all are related to live in a large single family house, but allow 5 unrelated adults to live in a one or two bedroom condo or apt. So if the basement apt was legal then, according to city ordinance, this was a perfectly acceptable living situation.

It would appear this basement "apt" never was approved, certainly was not up to standards and so presumably it will be investigated whether rent was being collected from an illegal unit.

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babette dickson 3 years, 11 months ago

Whoever owns these properties may have taken advantage of the tenants and it will be interesting to read the investigation's conclusions... It is a blessing no one got burnt! Yampa Valley Boys blames ICE (where are they to deport...) and the "system".... very caustic.... What about the person(s) cashing on the rent incomes? He - She - They owe these people A LOT!

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Ken Reed 3 years, 11 months ago

Maybe we should just try and help these people first. The article doesn't say anything about illegal status or violation of city ordinances, just that they lost everything and now have left the clothes on their back. If you want to do something positive, head over to LIFT-UP.

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1999 3 years, 11 months ago

good grief bellyup...shut the hell up. no one needs or wants your or anyones stupid comments on typos or gammar.

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MsRed 3 years, 11 months ago

Just as a point, no where in my comment did I discount the fact that people are displaced by this event, and that they need help to recover some of what they have lost.

The point of my comment is that in my experience, there are a number of rental units like this one: possibly over populated, possibly illegal (apartments), possibly not up to code. If the issue goes unchecked we could see more things like this- too many of these older places were grandfathered in- and have gone unchecked for years- and this is obvious by the fact that we are commenting on this story.

Scott- you are correct- part of the problem is many of the tenants claim to be related, but are not- it is then left up to landlords such as your self to "police" your own tenants.

I know what happens- I have seen it too many times to count- they tell you its only going to be 3 people living there- in reality it's more like 8-10 people living in a 2 bedroom- but with every one working and sleeping in shifts it's difficult to prove.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 11 months ago

MsRed, The problem is not that they are related. The problem is that they might not ALL be related. Thus, the same family with kids and adult friends that can legally live 8 in a two bedroom apt cannot legally rent a 4 bedroom house in Steamboat.

So it creates a joke of a situation in Steamboat where a landlord needs to be concerned whether two unrelated couples share a large house, but anything less than 6 adults in an one bedroom apt is fine.

This is a SB only rule.

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greenwash 3 years, 11 months ago

Obviously rent wasnt covering the mortgage. Really poor investment.Im sure there is a realtor out there who advised their client $800+K was a good buy.

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Cooke 3 years, 11 months ago

1999 – Perhaps what you meant to type was “anyone’s” and “grammar”? Too funny…

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 11 months ago

No way that rent covered the mortgage or was ever expected to cover the mortgage. The value in that property was not in the rent, but in the location and possibility of developing it. They got approval of a pretty ambitious project

Probably just walked away because project probably is not going to happen for a decade or two.

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sledneck 3 years, 11 months ago

Whats wrong with "summer gettin hotter, winter gettin shorter, tidal wave commin cross the Mexican border". ???

Seriously, whats wrong with that quote? What EXACT part of that quote is inaccurate?????????????????????????????????

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John Fielding 3 years, 11 months ago

.

I have been in those basement rooms, looking at structural conditions for a former owner. At that time they were occupied by a young white couple. I do not recall there being a kitchen per se. I think that technically means it was not an apartment, no food prep area. I was surprised two could live there, the rooms were tiny, but they seemed very much in love. I think it was considered a part of the upstairs apartment.

I am sorry for the losses to the occupants and the owners.

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John Fielding 3 years, 11 months ago

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YVB, these kids were as WASP as they could be, there was a high dollar bike parked in the stairwell. They just didn't have a lot of money I guess, so they were sharing a rental.

I have seen lots of basements that have no concrete on the floor, over the years the earth becomes packed and cemented so well that with a carpet one would never know what was beneath, and the functionality is comparable.

I think I recall a sink and toilet, laundry sink maybe, and adequate wiring for most uses like a microwave or hot plate. I was not looking at those features in particular, only the framing and foundation. I am not saying I think conditions were entirely suitable, but with a good set of smke and fire detectors, CO alarms and such it would not have been dangerous. I personally believe it is the responsibility of the occupant to assure such safeguards are in place and functional. Perhaps they should have the right to require the owner provide them, but then they will probably get a cheap one that will fail to detect fires in half the occurrences.

I say people must take responsibility for themselves and we should let them.

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 11 months ago

John-

"...adequate wiring for most uses like a microwave or hot plate."

Really? Do you ever get a chance to watch any home improvement shows on television? Well, thanks to how enrapturing those shows are to my girlfriend, I do. There's a fella out there by the name of Mike Holmes that does a show called "Holmes on Homes." This guy has been building houses since he was like 6 months old and he knows every bit of housing code and proper building technique that is, or ever has been, in place. He is a home-building master. Being an avid viewer of his show, and myself a tradesman/constructor/builder for a few years, I can assure you that it is highly probable that one of two things likely happened. First, the space was inadequately equipped with a food preparation area that could be safely used by the tenants to heat/cook their food. More often than not, when faced with the responsibility of procuring the means to heat ones own food, a person will improvise, adapt and overcome by whatever means necessary. I've seen everything from gas-fed camp stoves & electrical hot plates, to miniature indoor fire pits & clothing irons rigidly mounted up-side down with pans on top. Many bad things can result from make-shift kitchen set-ups, and burned down houses is pretty high up on that list. Secondly, when homeowners get the chance to maximize their space, and subsequently maximize their rent, they often jump in it head-long. A lot of homeowners don't know the proper way of going about things like that, in regards to pulling permits, bringing things up to code, etc... Unfortunately, there are too many shady contractors out there that are willing to do things the wrong way to save the mostly ignorant(not stupid) homeowners, and themselves, from the displeasure of abiding by the lengthy/costly/bureaucratic process of doing things the right way. Horrifyingly, some people still have the gravitas to take peoples lives into their own hands by cutting corners in the name of the almighty dollar. Improper electrical, often achieved by saving a few bucks on getting electricity into a new space, has been implicated as the source of many, many house fires.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see what they say caused this one.

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John Fielding 3 years, 11 months ago

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I am all in favor of codes that help assure safe conditions in buildings, even when they are upgraded to the point that it is really overkill, more is better when it comes to infrastructure.

That being said, requiring a 3" pipe for a laundry or a dedicated circuit for a refrigerator is probably not necessary for safety. And most of the old buildings downtown cannot come close to the roof strength requirements for today's construction codes, but they still stand after several generations. People probably shovel them a couple of times in a tough winter.

More important to me is that a person who moves into an old building recognize that there may be limitations that do not exist in newer ones. Even in the most modern apartment, you can overload a circuit if you use every appliance in the room at the same time, with older homes you may have to unplug something routinely or replace expensive old style fuses.

My bet is the fire was not caused by any deficiency in the building itself, only by someone doing something that was clearly unsafe.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 11 months ago

But living there may have been unsafe if it had a bad kitchen set up.

Building codes are not just minimal safety requirements, but also check for proper construction so homeowner is not stuck with huge maintenance or repair bills. So there are codes for number of drywall screws, sizes of pipes and so on. So a dedicate fuse for a fridge might be justified to minimize the chance of a fridge losing power and ruining food that might increase the risks of someone eating bad food. A 3" pipe may be overkill, but it certainly decreases the chances of it clogging and backing up.

And if it was not approved then the owners avoided paying water and sewer for however many years and so on. So everyone else paid a little more because that person was not paying.

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John Fielding 3 years, 11 months ago

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Pretty much everything in that building is older than the tap fee structures that would charge them for their facilities. They pay for what they use the same as everyone else.

Should it be our governments job to protect your food from spoiling or drain from backing up? Most every home in the country has a 1 1/2 or 2 inch laundry drain and a fridge on a shared circuit and there are not a lot of problems from that.

Suppose we make all of these issues the responsibility of the parties affected, not the government. Let the fire insurance companies charge more to owners who have crowded apartments with substandard facilities, and you will have a real incentive for upgrades. The insurance companies can investigate routinely to assure the risk to their stockholders is reasonable, something government cannot do. Let the owners pass these costs on to the occupants, and see who will still rent there.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 11 months ago

Most of a residential unit's water bill is the base fees, the amount charged for being connected to the system. If the two basement units were not legal units then they were not paying those fees.

Also, those basement do not predate the tap fee structure. A friend lived there 20 years ago and I am pretty sure the basements were not occupied then. Also, the recent owners would seem to have known the units were illegal and not paid for because they were not mentioned as a current use of the building when getting approvals of the proposed project.

This is a simple case of a property owner doing the wrong thing and apparently knowingly cheating zoning, building dept and construction standards. This is not a case of someone's wonderful house suddenly discovered with a 1.5" washer drain or too many outlets on a circuit breaker. This is someone cheating the entire system of what is allowed and what is a minimum standard and cheating their utilities.

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John Fielding 3 years, 11 months ago

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Scott, if you are right that the base fee is most of the bill for many residents it is a strong argument in favor of a rate structure revision. It is certainly not the case for my home, but with large grounds and many children and guests I know I use more than the average. I also pay sewer rates for the water used in my greenhouses in winter, no way they can sort that out. My bill this past month was near $200 and I have not had to water near as much as last year due to the rains. There seems to be little incentive for small households to conserve. But that is all a different topic.

If the water facilities in those basements are as old as most of the fixtures then that is over 20 years. If you rent an apartment and it has rooms you are not using you might sublet them or get roommates. If you rent a room out in your home or a motel and someone uses the bathroom sink for their dishes and has a hot plate and microwave that does not make it an illegal apartment. If there was a laundry sink that someone used for other purposes that also is reasonable. Now I remember better there was also a coin laundry down there.

It seems a lot of people are looking for something sinister here. To yvb its about illegal aliens, to you about not paying enough for utilities, to others about too many unrelated adults in one apartment, to still others about exploitation by unscrupulous landlords. I just don't see anything but a lot of people getting along as best they can, a bunch of cousins sharing a cheap rental and a landlord who keeps his nose out of their business.

Its been the cheapest, crummiest rental in town for a very long time, due to be replaced, would have been by now but for the economy. There was nothing happening there last week that is different from these many years past except someone put a 40 amp fuse in a 15 amp circuit to power their extension cords, or lit up a white gas stove, or fire pit, or upside down iron. In other words someone made a mistake.

Thank God no one was hurt, thank you to all who are helping those afflicted, from Lift Up to the insurance agents. And for the rest of us maybe live and let live.

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John Fielding 3 years, 11 months ago

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yvb, this bunch may be illegals, maybe even unrelated, but there are may reasons real American Citizens would and have lived there, that was why I mentioned the "very much in love" observation. A little place of your own, something you can afford, it became their honeymoon suite.

There was indoor plumbing, something the current residents probably considered an upgrade from previous accommodations. But if we are considering questioning the residents about anything potentially illegal on their part, I do think asking what their residency status is would be appropriate. And notifying them of our laws regarding self incrimination.

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John Fielding 3 years, 11 months ago

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yvb, I said that "IF we are considering questioning the residents about anything potentially illegal on their part," that is if we ask for ID to know who they are for an official reason. And this group in particular could well be excused from presenting any ID due to the fire.

I believe in a right to privacy, I do not think I should have to show ID unless the cops have a reason to ask me.

Ready for the bar code on your wrist?

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housepoor 3 years, 11 months ago

LOL Go back read all the tea party comments on how they felt about the census and their privacy.

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