Authorities investigating fire in WP Highlands
November 1, 2016
A blazing house fire lit up the Fraser valley early Friday morning Oct. 28.
The fire consumed large portions of a home and connected garage in the Winter Park Highlands area during the early morning hours of Oct. 28 and even prompted a call for assistance from an investigator from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Authorities were initially called to the area at roughly 2:30 a.m. Friday morning. Patsy Distel, a fulltime resident of the Winter Park Highlands area who lives next to the home that was burned, reported hearing dragging noises, like a bear getting into trash, before an explosion. Afterwards she saw visible flames.
According to Distel firefighters managed to put out all visible flames by roughly 3:30 a.m. Local fire officials remained on the scene most of the day. The Fire occurred in the East Grand Fire Protection District (EGFPD). Chief Todd Holzwarth, with the EGFPD, said the EGFPD finally cleared the scene at roughly 5 p.m. Friday night.
Local police officers arrived on the scene shortly thereafter according to Distel. “The police came to my house and told us to pack a bag and get the car out of the driveway,” said Distel. “The police were on the fire pretty quick,” she said. “It took about 20-minutes for fire engines to get here and 10-minutes for water to show up.”
Distel said she was impressed by the quality response of local authorities and firefighters. “They dug a trench between my house and the house on fire, and filled it with water to make a break. It was amazing the response.”
The cause and source of the fire is still being investigated. Authorities are looking for a person of interest they believe might be related to the incident. According to Chief Holzwarth the home that caught fire was an all electric home without any gas connections.
As firefighters were suppressing the fire authorities reached out to the home’s owners, who were not in the home at the time of the fire. The house in the Winter Park Highlands is their second home. The homeowners informed authorities no one was in the structure; however during the course of suppression efforts firefighters discovered a car in the homes attached garage, prompting concerns the structure was occupied at the time and that someone might have perished in the blaze.
An investigator from the CBI was called in to assist with the investigation while it was still believed a body was inside the burned structure. “For most of the day we thought there was a body in the house,” said Lieutenant Dan Mayer with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO). After a thorough search of the home and surrounding area though authorities were able to determine definitively the structure was unoccupied.
The vehicle discovered burned in the home’s garage was later identified as belonging to the son of the owners of the home. Lt. Mayer with the GCSO said investigators from the Sheriff’s Office were still working out details Monday afternoon but added, “there is evidence it may have been set intentionally.”
PERSON OF INTEREST
Authorities were looking for the homeowner’s son over the weekend to ask him a few questions about the house fire. Officials did not name the son as a suspect but he is considered a person of interest.
Monday afternoon authorities from Grand County discovered the son had been arrested in Utah Saturday Oct. 29 following a high-speed pursuit with Utah State Patrol that reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The male party was taken into custody in Utah on charges unrelated to the fire in Winter Park Highlands. Additionally Grand County officials confirmed the male party had additional warrants from Arapaho County at the time of his arrest in Utah.
The male party was arrested while driving an SUV. Authorities are working to determine the provenance of the vehicle but according to Grand County officials the license plate on the vehicle he was driving when arrested were registered to the vehicle that burned inside the garage in Winter Park Highlands.
The damage to the home caused by the fire was extensive. While wild land fires can be somewhat common at certain times of the year in Grand County significant structure fires are far less common. Chief Holzwarth referred to the structure as, “heavily damaged” and added, “we don’t see large fires like this one very often.”
Holzwarth also added he was extremely relieved no one died in the fire. “During the investigation no one was located in the building,” Holzwarth said. “But we were certainly prepared. I thought someone was in there. I figured our luck ran out.” Holzwarth pointed out there have been no fatalities from structure fires in the EGFPD since well before his tenure with the department started in 1974.
“There was a double fatality fire in the late 40s or early 50s,” Holzwarth said. “But since I have been here we have been awfully lucky.”
The fire took place in an area significantly removed from available water sources. As such firefighters from the EGFPD and firefighters from the Grand Fire Protection District (GFPD), used water tender trucks to supply water to the fire engines. The tender trucks took their water from a source roughly one-and-a-half miles from the fire scene.
“The water tender shuttle worked very well,” Chief Holzwarth said. “We drill on that quite a bit. I think we delivered about 22,000 gallons to the scene and used about 16,000.”
Multiple local agencies responded to the fire in Winter Park Highlands including: the EGFPD, the GFPD, the GCSO, the Fraser/Winter Park Police Dept. and Grand County EMS. The CBI also assisted with the on scene investigation after fire suppression was complete and Mountain Parks Electric safely controlled power to the structure. No injuries were reported from the blaze.