Fire in Highlands ruled accidental |

Fire in Highlands ruled accidental

Special to the DailyA heater used to cure concrete is to blame for a house fire in the Highlands Saturday morning. The investigation revealed that the incident was neither malicious, intentional nor criminal in nature.

BRECKENRIDGE Tom Eble, the general contractor on the $1.4 million Highlands home that burned last weekend, is still in shock. He has worked in the industry for 20 years and has never had something like this happen.Charred timbers litter the nearby hillside. Lodgepole pine trees are scorched. The ground is icy from the water the firefighters used. The door of the portable toilet is twisted and the concrete foundation is pocked, representing the fires intensity.All that stands is a corner of the deck, the construction trailer and the bright yellow Caution tape surrounding the home.I dont know how I could have been any safer, he said. Im dont know if there was anything else I could have done.Fire investigators determined Sunday that the fire was caused by a heater used to cure the concrete that had just been poured on the second floor. The heater was located on the first floor, on drywall as required by the manufacturer, and at least a foot away from the wooden frame of the house, Eble said.Insurance adjusters have yet to determine how the heater ignited the house and how it might have moved from the location in which Eble placed it. One possibility is that something fell and struck it. Fire and police investigators said Monday the fire was not malicious, intentional or criminal in nature.Thats some solace for Eble. But the fire still means six months of hard work down the drain.What exactly happened at Ebles home has yet to be determined. According to Lake Dillon Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Berino, other fire investigations have revealed contractors had failed to place the heater on drywall to prevent its heat from igniting the floor, protective inflow screens were missing, and the heater sucked up insulation that jammed the fan. Even leaking propane, which is heavier than air, could descend to lower levels and be ignited by a pilot light.Complacency can be an issue in some cases, Berino said. People use the heater for a year or so, they never have a problem. It just takes once.Video cameras installed on the construction trailer were of great assistance in the investigation, Berino said.Berino said Ebles heater was about five inches from the bare framing of the house when they found it in the garage during an investigation Sunday.It wasnt pointed that direction when I left that Friday evening, Eble said.According to Berino, the Salamander brand forced-air heaters, such as that used in the home at 75 Peabody Terrace, are more often to blame for home fires than the mushroom type heater often used to heat homes under construction.He wants to heighten awareness about the potential danger.Weve had a lot of fires with both, Berino said, adding that his department typically responds to about a half-dozen such fires each year. But these have a huge BTU (energy) output.Eble has two other houses in the Highlands under construction, one on either side of the house that burned. Neither were threatened by the conflagration.One is due to be complete in February, the other in May. The home that burned was to be completed in March. That puts him nine months behind schedule, and he already has a full spring planned.Eble plans to get back to work on the house as soon as the insurance adjusters do their work. He said hes not an engineer, so hes not sure if any of the home might be salvageable. But he doesnt think so.The concrete slab, all the heating and water is in that, and it got super-heated, he said. Its going to depend on the insurance investigation.Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at

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