Fire levels Wilk’s home | AspenTimes.com
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Fire levels Wilk’s home

Tim Mutrie

What was apparently Wilk Wilkinson’s Smuggler Mountain home burned to the ground in a fire that lit the night sky over Aspen Saturday.

The blaze left a noticeable haze over Aspen Sunday morning and continued to smolder into the evening yesterday. There were no reports of injuries associated with the fire.

Investigators with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s office, the Aspen Fire Marshal’s office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation spent much of Sunday trying to determine the cause of the blaze, which left the structure “a total loss,” according to Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob. The cause had not been determined by yesterday evening, he said.

The structure, which was apparently built illegally on Wilkinson’s land, was located less than a mile behind the lookout platform off Smuggler Mountain Road. Wilkinson estimated his losses at $1 million, according to officials.

When more than a dozen Aspen volunteer firefighters arrived at the scene after 11 p.m. Saturday, “it was raging,” said firefighter and sheriff’s Deputy Brian Benton. Firefighters quickly established a defensive fire-control perimeter, to prevent the blaze from spreading to other nearby structures and the surrounding forest, he said.

Two Aspen firetrucks were dispatched to the scene, along with two water trucks – one from the city of Aspen and one from Pitkin County Road and Bridge Department – in order to supply the more than 16,000 gallons of water needed to contain and control the blaze.

“We had to bring all the water up there with us, because there’s no water supply up there,” Benton said.

“It was a defensive operation,” Grob explained. “When we arrived at the scene, there was little we could do to control the structure fire.”

Grob said the few inches of snow that fell late last week helped to prevent the fire from spreading.

The loss caused by the fire has been estimated at $1 million, Grob said.

“That was the number that Wilk passed on to our fire investigator, and that’s just a preliminary estimate,” Grob said. “In other words, at this stage and with that level of destruction, it’s difficult for anyone not familiar with the structure to place a number value on the loss … I’m sure it will be fine-tuned as time passes.”

Grob said the decision to call in CBI investigators was a precautionary one.

“The fire marshal, Ed Van Walraven, felt like it would be best to keep all the bases covered so he requested their assistance in the investigation,” Grob said.

Benton said most firefighters left the scene at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday, though two firefighters with a truck monitored the smoldering remains throughout the night.

The home is the second Wilkinson has lost on the mountain. Pitkin County tore down one home several years ago, because it was constructed without the proper permits.

The new structure was also built without permits, according to Cindy Houben, the county’s head planner.

Last summer, Houben red-tagged several teepees and lean-tos that had been constructed on Wilkinson’s Smuggler property because they were not legal residences. The tenants were told to move.

“It’s a high wildfire area,” said Houben. “It’s on a slope – it’s a dangerous situation.”

County approvals for a house on Smuggler would include wildfire mitigation, like clearing a certain amount of space around the structure, she said. Use of certain building materials would likely be required as well, she said.

Wilkinson, who has accumulated a large block of land on Smuggler with the acquisition of old mining claims, has long battled with the county on many fronts, including use and ownership of Smuggler Mountain Road, development of his property and allowing tenants to live on his land in makeshift homes.


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