Odd events lead to midvalley fire
BASALT ” A midvalley home was extensively damaged Wednesday after a fire broke out when a toddler apparently ignited a gas fireplace by accident, according to Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson.
The odd circumstances resulted in smoke and water damage to the home of Scott and Allyson Russell at 48 River Bend Road in the Wingo Junction area, Thompson said. No one was injured in the blaze.
The fire investigation indicated that a toddler in the house touched the switch of a fireplace in the master bedroom on the second floor. The toddler was in the room alone. That triggered the automatic ignition and started the flame in the fireplace Unfortunately, there was a mattress leaning against the fireplace and a box spring pressing against the first mattress, Thompson said. The mattress next to the fireplace ignited and eventually triggered the home sprinkler system.
The mattresses shielded the flame from the sprinkler water and allowed the fire to grow, so the heat climbed in the second floor of the 5,000-square-foot house until eight sprinkler heads were eventually triggered, Thompson said.
Firefighters were called to the scene at 8:45 a.m. and found smoke billowing out of the house. Firefighters reported that the smoke was so thick upon entry that they couldn’t see their hands in front of them. “You feel like you’re going into a black hole,” Thompson said.
They used a thermal imaging camera to pinpoint the source of the blaze. They were able to throw aside what remained of the box spring mattress to douse the fireplace flame and areas around the fireplace that were burned.
Thompson said there was “easily” $200,000 to $250,000 in damage to the house. The sprinkler system nearly drained its entire tank and water saturated the first and second floors and dripped all the way to the basement.
“If we didn’t have sprinklers we would have lost the whole second floor,” Thompson said. ” It holds the fire in check until we get there. That’s exactly what it did.”
The family’s clothing and other belongings on the second floor suffered extensive smoke damage, Thompson said, and the house is uninhabitable. But Thompson said it was fortunate the incident wasn’t worse.
A baby-sitter for the Russell’s three children smelled the smoke and called Mrs. Russell, according to Thompson. She called 911 and told the baby-sitter to get the kids ” ages 3 years, 18 months and five weeks ” out of the house. Mrs. Russell drove the short distance from Basalt and found the fire in the master bedroom.
The power to the home’s smoke detector system was shut off, Thompson said. The Russells were shocked to learn the system had been deactivated and said it wasn’t by them, the fire chief said.
The Basalt fire department recommends sprinkler systems for large houses when developments are reviewed in Basalt, Pitkin and Eagle counties, Thompson said. If a sprinkler system wasn’t in this house, it would have been difficult to battle the blaze because of limited access and no fire hydrants.
The department responded with 18 firefighters, three trucks and an ambulance. Ed Van Walraven, the Aspen fire marshal, assisted Thompson in the investigation.
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A straw poll by the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday indicated they would grant approval to Aspen Skiing Co.’s long-sought expansion into the Pandora’s terrain. The board did not take a formal vote, and instead, county commissioners and staff will meet to hammer out details on formal approval documents and it will be back on the Nov. 17 agenda for the vote.