Montezuma home burns to ground as fire hydrants fail
Summit County correspondent
MONTEZUMA, Colo. – A Montezuma home burned to the ground Thursday night as a failing fire hydrant system caused firefighters to haul more than 10,000 gallons of water to battle the blaze.
“Luckily no one was hurt, but man – what a tragedy,” Montezuma Mayor Steve Hornback said. “You could rake what’s left of that house up into a pick-up truck.”
The residence at 5314 Montezuma Road belonged to Noah Landwehr and Carly Griffith, who had lived there with their 1-year-old son, Atticus.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but by Friday afternoon it appeared it may have started from one of the home’s two wood stoves, said Jeff Berino, deputy fire chief with Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.
A call went out at 10:52 p.m. Thursday and firefighters quickly arrived to find “heavy smoke” coming out “all the seams,” he said.
Fire Chief Dave Parmley said the fire was “substantially knocked down” by 2 a.m.
The home is a total loss, and Berino said the preliminary damage estimate is about $350,000.
Firefighters first went in the home with a fire hose on to make sure nobody was inside, then they sprayed from outside the home.
“It finally got away from them,” Hornback said. “They used the water then to protect the surrounding buildings, and they did a damn good job.”
The home next door had only a bit of smoke damage, and a nearby propane tank was promptly turned off and protected from the fire.
Hornback said deputies with Summit County Sheriff’s Office arrived a bit earlier than the firefighters and freed a black dog that endured some light smoke inhalation from the burning home.
Firefighters tried several hydrants, but found there was no water available. The creek feeding the hydrant system was frozen solid.
Water tenders with a 1,500-gallon capacity were trucked 5.5 miles between Keystone and Montezuma “and the roads were just treacherous last night,” Berino said Friday.
“It made for a long evening,” Berino said. “The crews left just at sun-up.”
Parmley said Summit County Road and Bridge kept a plow truck running along an icy Montezuma Road to “help keep the area sanded” as fire trucks hauled water to the burning home.
Berino said nearly $70,000 was spent on improvements to the water system completed in summer 2008. Hornback said a new tank was installed, and a new intake is to be installed this year to replace one that’s been in use about 18 years.
Hornback said the intake is at about 10,800 feet and was discovered Friday morning to have “about 4 feet of ice around it.”
“It’s just a strange year for ice formations,” he said. “We had a creek above town go out and start flooding Third Street.”
The town will look into ways to further improve the hydrant system, Hornback said.
The Red, White and Blue Fire District responded with a fire truck to assist the three that Lake Dillon firefighters were using at the scene.
Parmley said he was “very pleased with the job that our firefighters do, and they really work well under some adverse conditions.”
He added that at times like this “you see the training pay off.”
The eye-catching, purple house was built in 1890 and included hay bales for insulation – which didn’t burn because it was so compacted, Berino said.
The home had also been a recent abode for James Tyler, a local attorney who died on the lam in Mexico last fall.
Hornback said a fund is to be set up at a local bank to help the young family deal with the loss.
A Montezuma house fire in April 2008 took the life of a male resident. The fire hydrants were used in that situation.
Montezuma, located southeast of Keystone in Summit County, has a population of about 60 and is isolated at an elevation of about 10,300 feet.
“It’s a pretty self-sufficient community,” Berino said. “But when something does go wrong, it goes wrong big.”