GRAND LAKE - The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is looking into the cause of a June 13 fire at JJ's Isolation Peaks Motel on U.S. Highway 34 near Grand Lake that destroyed nearly half the building.
Grand Lake Fire responded to a call around 4:15 p.m. Monday for a report of a dryer on fire, according to Grand Lake Fire Chief Michael Long. When crews arrived, the fire had spread from the office where the dryer was located into the building's three northern residential units. Grand Lake called for mutual aid from Granby Fire Department.
Firefighters evacuated four long-term tenants who were running back into the building in moderate to heavy smoke to pull out their belongings, Long said. Firefighters also rescued seven cats from one of the units.
At the same time, fire crews cut vent holes in the roof to prevent the fire from spreading through the common attic to the other end of building.
The Grand County Sheriff's Department shut down U.S. Highway 34 for several hours because the closest hydrant was across the highway and there were no options for detours.
Grand County EMS was on hand to help take care of firefighters, making sure they were hydrated and rested.
At about 7:30 p.m., crews went through the building with a thermal imaging device used to detect heat. They also overhauled the buildings, pulling down walls and ceilings to expose any hidden fire, Long said.
They officially called the fire out at around 8 p.m., cleared the responding units and gave possession back to the property owner.
Grand Lake's crew returned to the firehouse, cleaned up all their equipment and restocked their trucks. At approximately 11:15 p.m. the crew received another call alerting them that there was a possible rekindle at the motel, with smoke and flames showing through the roof. When crews arrived, two of the northern units were fully involved in fire.
"Everybody was tired, discouraged," Long said.
This time the crews called Granby, East Grand and Hot Sulphur for mutual aid.
One tenant who was staying in his van in back came out and talked to the crews and then returned to his van, Long said. Firefighters remained on site until 4 a.m. putting out hot spots.
Sitting in front of the motel waiting for the CBI investigator Tuesday morning, June 14, Long said he hadn't seen any smoke in about four hours.
"I want to compliment our mutual aid partners for their hard work and assistance," he said. Between the four responding fire departments, EMS and the sheriff's office, there were about 45-50 people working the fire.
"It was a good county effort," Long said. "We really didn't lose any more real estate than we had already lost. About 60 percent of the structure was saved."
With the heavy smoke and heat, Long said he assumes much of the building will have to be demolished, but the fire crews managed to save most of the contents for tenants.
Long said he called CBI because he wanted a thorough investigation to verify the cause and origin of the fire.
"I was told that dryer had been running most of the day," he said.
J.R. Waller and his son John Waller own the building, Long said. Waller also owned three buildings in Grand Lake that were leveled by fire almost a year ago on June 24, 2010, including the Express Tire and a storage shed full of equipment.
- Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.