Firefighters battle Montezuma fire twice |

Firefighters battle Montezuma fire twice

Jane Stebbins

According to Snake River assistant chief Bruce Farrell, renters at a home on 2nd Street called 911 at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to report that their woodburning stove had set the roof on fire. More than 20 firefighters from Snake River and Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue responded to the call, six miles southeast of Keystone.

Fire investigators believe the fire initially started in the roof, which was coated with creosote. Creosote is a sticky, highly flammable byproduct of burning. If stovepipes aren’t cleaned out regularly, the creosote will line the walls of the pipe and, if it gets hot enough, can ignite.

The single-story, wood-frame house is made of heavy timber construction and wood paneling. It’s owned by Dave Harmon, known to Montezuma locals as Montezuma Dave.

Firefighters extinguished the fire Tuesday night, then began overhaul operations, which include checking the structure to make sure the fire hadn’t spread into other areas of the house.

But old homes can be tricky, Farrell said.

A thermal imaging unit, which firefighters use to detect relative heat in such things as walls and ceilings, failed to show a hidden hot spot in the roof.

Part of the problem was the roof itself, which, over the years, became a stack of a metal roof, a composite shingle roof and then another metal roof. Another problem might have been the extremely cold temperatures that night – in the single digits – that skewed the thermal imaging unit’s reading. The unit is designed only to detect variances in heat.

“We pulled the roof off, and it looked cold,” Farrell said. ” If there’s heat behind something, it has to change the temperature on the outer surface (before the unit will detect it). It was so deep in the multi-layered roof, it hadn’t heated up the outer surface yet.

“Somewhere in a hidden pocket something hot stayed in there overnight,” he added. “Even with the thermal imaging unit, we didn’t see anything; it was hiding under layers of stuff. Normally they’re very effective.”

Firefighters were again summoned to the house at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, when a neighbor reported that the roof had reignited.

By the time firefighters arrived, flames were coming through the roof. Crews from Snake River, Lake Dillon and Red, White and Blue fire departments arrived to help extinguish the fire and provide back-up services in Keystone and Frisco. They remained on scene, removing the entire roof and extinguishing any hot spots, until Wednesday afternoon.

Smoke and water damage were limited to the roof, Farrell said, adding that he believes the main body of the house is still structurally intact.

Firefighters were able to fight the fire – both times – with a minimal amount of water. Up to six engine trucks, each equipped with water, a water tanker and shuttles from a hydrant at Snake River’s main station in Keystone kept firefighters well-supplied, Farrell said. The town has two fire hydrants, fed by a gulch, but are prone to freezing.

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