Fire destroys family's retirement home one week before moving in

By TED SULLIVAN Chronicle Staff Writer

A fire razed a home seven miles north of Bozeman early Tuesday morning, burning the 5,500-square-foot house to the ground.

"It's destroyed," Central Valley Fire Operations Chief Kevin Strickler said of the home. "It's gonna get 'dozed."

Gary and Pauline Sager owned the timber and stone house at 7001 Bridger Canyon Road and discovered the fire at 6:15 a.m., they said. The Sagers had planned to move into the house next week, after construction workers finished the final details.

"This is what we had been building to enjoy as our retirement home," Pauline Sager said. "It's a total loss."

No one was injured in the blaze that about 40 firefighters fought until noon. The battle was complicated by sub-zero temperatures, icy roads and frozen equipment.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation and "it does not appear suspicious," Strickler said.

Firefighters did find several propane tanks with heaters in the home, he said. The tanks were used to keep construction workers warm.

Two additional 500-gallon propane tanks were underground to heat the home, he said. They released propane that fueled the fire after it ignited.

"They were just force-feeding the fire," Strickler said. "There was no way to shut them off."

Firefighters had trouble reaching the flames because the one-lane driveway to the home was icy, he said. Two of five fire engines and three of seven water trucks were unable to climb the road.

"The road was so slick and a steep grade," Strickler said.

A temperature of minus 19 also disabled two more fire engines and slowed firefighters, he said. One engine had frozen brakes, another had a frozen pump that couldn't shoot water from the hose.

One water truck had a fuel line break, leaking gas and catching fire to the truck, Strickler said. The truck was crippled and had to be towed from the scene.

Fire engines had less water because of the conditions, he said. Retrieving more water for the engines was difficult because they had to go down the mountain to be refilled.

"There was a lack of water," Strickler said.

The home had no furniture or appliances, he said. The Sagers had been building the home since May 2004 and had hoped to move in next week.

"I ran up to the house to see (the fire) and couldn't do anything," Gary Sager said. "I knew very quickly that there just wasn't a chance."

The Sagers will remain in their current home nearby. The destroyed home was insured.