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Fire damages Forest Lakes home
11/30/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
Steve and Colleen Theobald’s three story house in Forest Lakes was heavily damaged in a fire that broke out late in the evening of Nov. 19, the Monday before Thanksgiving.
The family had a menagerie of small animals - birds, fish, and reptiles as well as dogs and a cat. All the birds, fish, and some reptiles died in the fire. Upper Pine Fire Chief Rich Graeber said the department suspected a heating unit on a reptile tank in the Theobalds’ son’s bedroom as the cause of the fire.
The fire definitely started in that bedroom, Graeber said, pointing to that charred corner of the home.
The family was traveling for Thanksgiving and had their dogs with them, he said. A cat escaped from the burning house, and firefighters rescued a snake. A pet rat survived and was taken out of the house the next morning.
Graeber said Upper Pine got the call at 10:18 p.m. on Nov. 19. “We are of the position that it was burning for at least 90 minutes before we got called. That whole area is wide open. Finally it broke a winddow, and the 911 lines lit up.”
He said the first Upper Pine responder arrived in about six minutes - Deputy Chief Randy Larson who lives in Forest Lakes. Even before that, neighbors tried to fight the fire with garden hoses, protecting a boat, and they dragged Theobalds’ pickup away from the house onto Little Bear Drive.
Flames were coming out of the corner bedroom when Larson arrived, Graeber said. Larson confirmed there were no people inside. It took about 30 minutes to get the fire knocked down. The initial attack used a deck gun on the engine from the Forest Lakes station, about 90 seconds at 600 gallons per minute through the windows into the son’s bedroom before firefighters went into the house.
It took another three hours to get it fully extinguished because of all the little spaces in the house, Graeber said.
Around 30 firefighters fought the fire from Upper Pine, plus around four from Los Pinos, and around six from Durango Fire & Rescue. Upper Pine Auxiliary members also responded.
“Our guys did some real aggressive big league fire fighting last night,” Graeber said as he surveyed the house the next morning. “They went above and beyond to get this knocked down.”
Everything on the second and third floors was heavily damaged, “but we probably saved most of the belongings on the first floor,” he said, including an heirloom diamond ring that was recovered. “A big department would have thrown 30 to 40 guys at this in the first 15 minutes. Our initial attack was seven guys in the first 10 minutes... I am humbly proud of them. In another day and time, this probably would have burned to the ground.”
No firefighters or neighbors were injured. “The neighbors were a great help... The neighborhood effort before we got here needs to be commended as well,” Graeber said.
Theobalds’ house is surrounded by large ponderosas, and there are several other homes nearby. The ponderosa closest to the charred bedroom was singed but not burned.
Graeber said he was on the scene until 3 a.m. “We left two guys here all night to make sure there wasn’t a re-kindle,” he said.
According to a follow-up news release on the fire, the house value was estimated at $600,000 and damage to house and contents was estimated at $450,000.
The fire in Forest Lakes was Upper Pine’s second of the day, Graeber said. Responders were recovering from four hours at a controlled burn out of control on County Road 502 when they got the new call.
The controlled burn was done the week before in a large slash pile that held the heat and re-kindled, he said. That was at 13720 CR 502, west of the 502/ 501 intersection. The owner of that property had left for Arizona. “A friend who lives in Forest Lakes saw the smoke and knew what it was,” Graeber said.
That page came at 2 p.m. Responders found the fire moving slowly through scrub oak on the east side of the property. Firefighters had it contained in 10 minutes and spent the rest of the time mopping up the half acre burn.
The fire at Theobalds’ house stirred neighbors to ask Upper Pine for fire prevention inspections, he said. The inspections are optional and free, and the owner isn’t required to fix anything if they don’t want to. For information call 884-9508.
Donations for the Theobald family are being taken at Colleen’s Treasures, the store on Mill Street that Colleen Theobald opened and sold earlier this year. Donations of household goods also can be left at Garcia Family Chiropractic. To arrange a donation, call Dee Lopez at 884-5072 or 779-0425.