Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority discloses probable cause of Sinclair Road house fire in Snowmass |

Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority discloses probable cause of Sinclair Road house fire in Snowmass

An image of the charred chimney chase in the Sinclair Road home.
Courtesy photo/Roaring Fork Fire

Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority officials disclosed the probable cause of the fire that significantly damaged a Sinclair Road home last week.

On Jan. 27, Fire Marshal John Mele said that the house fire — which reportedly forced four people to evacuate and caused significant damage to the second floor Jan. 20 — was most likely the result of pyrolysis of the home’s wooden chimney chase.

According to Mele, pyrolysis is when high heat conditions within a low-oxygen environment cause organic materials, like wood, to decompose over time.

The Sinclair Road home was built and completed in 1979, Mele explained, and had a non-fire proofed wooden chimney chase, which is what encloses a fireplace’s flue and is encapsulated with fireproof material in newer homes.

Mele said in the Sinclair Home case, he believes the exposed, wooden chimney chase was charred and decomposed by the continued use of the fireplace over time through pyrolysis, and eventually caught fire Jan. 20.

“This (pyrolysis) could have started a long time ago, but the chase finally decomposed enough and lowered the ignition temperature of the wood enough to produce fire,” Mele said, noting he’s seen pyrolysis play out in Snowmass Village homes before.

“The fireplace was not misused and the firebox was in good shape, so that’s why we believe pyrolysis was the probable cause of this.”

Mele went on to say that the reason this is the “probable” cause is because he and Roaring Fork Fire Rescue officials want to wait until they are able to fully deconstruct the Sinclair Road home’s chimney before they draw any definitive conclusions as to why it caught fire.

But as a result of the probable cause finding, Mele urged locals with both older and newer homes to ask their chimney sweeps to inspect the chase the next time their home’s chimney is cleaned.

“Even in more modern homes, have the chimney sweep inspect the interior chases,” Mele said. “Luckily in this situation the firefighters made a tremendous save, they saved the entire house from being destroyed.”