December, 2005


The House Burned Down — Dec 06, 2005
(click on picture to view larger version)

We have found that people are so shocked we have to say it twice: yes, the house burned down. More on the details below. First, no-one was hurt, and all our irreplaceable belongings are safe in the Carriage House. Furthermore, the people of Bridger Canyon and Bozeman have been very supportive — even to the extent of making their homes available over the holidays so that no-one who is planning to visit should change their plans.

As with most unfortunate events, many factors combined to make the situation worse. The fire started outside the house, probably around 6am. Gary woke up minutes before 6:15 am to check if the road would need plowing and spotted what appeared to be a small fire at the west end of the house. We called 911 and Gary and Arthur raced up to the house to find a small fire involving the underside of the balcony at the west end. Apparently, one of the small propane heaters set up to keep the stucco applied the afternoon before ignited the plastic sheeting the stucco contractor used to enclose the area beneath the balcony. Flames were too high for us to reach, and we were concerned that the propane tanks might explode. As we later learned, there was also a propane heater on the balcony, which explains why the fire suddenly increased in intensity, roaring up under the eaves of the roof above the balcony. We assume that the safety relief valve on the upper tank had popped and was venting propane like a large torch. The fire soon was inside the upper and lower west bedrooms and spread quickly to the oak flooring that had received a first coat of finish late the previous afternoon. It raced the length of the house.

It is ironic that all the care we had taken regarding fire was for naught. The plumbers had turned off the water the afternoon before (standard procedure, since they are concerned about leaks with new installations). Unfortunately, this meant that the fire suppression system was also off; the question as to whether this would have made a difference is still open. We also had a metal roof to protect from external fire, but with the fire under the roof it only served to prevent water the fire trucks were spraying from reaching the fire. The largely fire proof exterior of the house was no match for the blow torch of fire from the propane tank.

It was evident by 7am that best efforts by the many fire departments that responded were futile. It had been snowing for 10 days straight, so the driveway was not in the best condition. The temperature was below -10°F, which caused many equipment problems. One pumper had a gas line burst and the truck caught fire, so the firemen had to divert efforts from the house to the truck. Another truck must have had water in the hydraulic system and its brakes froze, causing it to get stuck in the drive (fortunately, there was room to get around it). None of these problems made a difference in the outcome, however; the situation was beyond what could have been dealt with in ideal weather conditions.

Of course, we are still somewhat in shock about all this and need some time to collect our wits. Once we have done that, we can rationally evaluate what can be salvaged. We have learned that the heat of the fire made the foundation unusable for rebuilding, but hopefully most or all of the garage may be saved.

Some (relatively) good news is that, between our insurance, the insurance of the contractor and the insurance of the subcontractor, we should have more than enough coverage to rebuild. Of course, collecting from all those sources may present some problems.

Picture from local paper

Article from local paper

FWIW — December Main House Progress