Fire destroys Willits home |

Fire destroys Willits home

Photo courtesy of Laura FeyFire consumed a house at 510 Lake Court in the Willits subdivision of Basalt Wednesday night. Two houses on either side were evacuated by police but firefighters prevented the blaze from spreading.

BASALT – A fire destroyed a single-family house in the Willits subdivision Wednesday night and forced the evacuation of two neighboring homes until the blaze was brought under control.

No one was injured in the fire at 510 Lake Court, Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said, but he estimated the property damage was at least $800,000. The house was a total loss, and it partially collapsed as firefighters were using two ladder fire engines – with water nozzles installed at the top of towering booms – to spray steady streams of water at it.

Flames lit up the midvalley in the Willits-El Jebel area starting at about 8:22 p.m., and the firefighting effort played out in front of scores of neighbors and others who lined the streets at a safe distance.

The fire consumed the house so quickly that firefighters went into what Thompson called a “defensive mode” upon arrival to contain the fire in the house and prevent it from spreading. Water was sprayed on the two adjacent houses by some of the first firefighters on the scene while others hit the burning house with water, he said.

Burning materials sizzled, and smoke and steam poured out as huge sprays of water were flung at the house. An acrid smell hung in the air. Numerous onlookers snapped photos as flames shot out of every window and doorway.

Mark Logan, a resident across the street from the house that burned, was working in his home when an unusual sound caught his attention. “I didn’t see it, I heard it,” he said of the roar of the flames and crackle of the wood and materials burning. He looked out his window and saw flames shooting out of the house’s first floor. They quickly spread to the rest of the structure.

He said he woke up his young son and was prepared to evacuate, but the order never came and he didn’t feel threatened. Thompson said police officers evacuated only the two adjacent houses.

Thompson had reported to the Pitkin County dispatch center at 8:47 p.m. that the initial response had significantly reduced the danger to adjacent structures.

The burned house was two stories with dormers jutting above the second floor. The roof ended in the crawl space after ceilings and walls gave way, Thompson said. A fire engine and crew were stationed there for the night as a precaution although all major operations were wrapped up by 11 p.m.

The house is owned by Harold Unglert, but was facing a foreclosure proceeding, according to the Eagle County public trustee’s website. A foreclosure sale was scheduled for Feb. 9.

Neighbors said Harold “Chip” Unglert rented out the house some time ago but had moved back in and had roommates. Thompson said it was his understanding that there were three roommates. Only one was at home at the time of the fire and he escaped without harm.

A man who identified himself as a renter in the house said he left his room for a brief period and found flames coming out of a wall when he returned. He scrambled out of the house with nothing but the clothes on his back. He said he lost his glasses in the process and was having trouble seeing the firefighting effort. He asked that his name not be used.

An on-call officer for the Basalt fire department Wednesday night was on the scene in approximately five minutes after the fire call came in, and he immediately made the assessment of resources needed and started turning off utilities at the house, Thompson said.

Thompson arrived at the scene simultaneously with the first fire engine approximately 10 minutes after the call came in, he said. Thompson then guided the firefighting effort and directed the efforts of additional fire engines that arrived from the Basalt fire department as well as the engine from Carbondale and Snowmass Village.

Because of the magnitude of the fire and the damage, the fire department is asking the police department to help with the investigation into the cause. It is standard practice for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to get involved in investigations as well in some cases.

The fire was the fourth house fire in the midvalley since Jan. 3. There were two house fires on Monday, Jan. 3, and another one on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

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