Friday, July 11, 2008

"I just knew my house was on fire"

Blaze destroys Warm Springs home

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle supervises as an unidentified Ketchum firefighter sprays foam over the Warm Springs home of Carole Carlson. Carlson’s house was engulfed in flames on Wednesday morning, resulting in a large response from the Ketchum, Sun Valley and Wood River Fire & Rescue fire departments. Photo by Willy Cook

When Carole Carlson turned to gaze back over Warm Springs during a morning hike up Bald Mountain Wednesday, she spied a column of smoke that triggered a disheartening realization.

"I just knew my house was on fire," said Carlson, who has lived in the ranch-style house at 3211 Warm Springs Road for the past 50 years.

Back at her house, Carlson and a handful of neighbors attempted to douse the flames, but it was too late.

"When I got there they were trying to get hoses and buckets, but the curtains and siding were on fire and the windows were already starting to pop," said Cirsten Fitch, a resident on nearby Sage Road. "I just told Carole it was time to grab her purse and car and get out."

Carlson said that by the time she pulled her car out of the garage, the smoke was too thick to return and retrieve any more belongings.

"It was a very hot and fast fire," Carlson said.

Shortly before 9:30 a.m. emergency dispatch received calls of smoke and flames and immediately dispatched firefighters to the scene, located on the south side of Warm Springs Road just west of Jane Lane.

Responding to the call were a total of 39 firefighters from the Ketchum, Sun Valley and Wood River Fire & Rescue fire departments, as well as five fire engines, two ladder trucks, two ambulances, four command vehicles.

Due to the amount of smoke, the Sun Valley department sent an air trailer to refill the firefighters' air canisters.

"We probably went through 40 bottles easy," said Ketchum Assistant Fire Chief Robbie Englehart, who was in command of the operation.

With vehicles, personnel and equipment crowding the street, Ketchum police closed off Warm Springs Road at the four-way stop, detouring traffic down to Picabo Street.

The fire was officially "knocked down" at 9:52 a.m., but despite the quick response the house was completely charred, especially in the back, where Carlson surmised was the origin of the fire.

Carlson, who remained remarkably composed as the firefighters poured water and foam over her house, said that she lit her electric barbecue before going on her hike and forgot to turn it off. She said the grill was sitting on her back deck near the wall of the house.

This cause for the fire was validated by the Ketchum Fire Department, which added that the age of the house aided the rapid expansion of the fire.

By 10:20 a.m., firefighters were clambering atop the house with axes and chainsaws to cut ventilation holes in the roof, allowing dark billows of smoke to escape.

In an attempt to distract herself from the unfolding situation, Carlson asked Ketchum Police representative Kim Rogers if it was legal to raise chickens within the city limits.

Throughout the ordeal Carlson continued to try and view the tragedy as optimistically as possible.

"I've met more neighbors in half an hour than I ever did in the past 50 years," said Carlson, who works at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Ketchum.

After receiving a number of offers for accommodation from neighbors, Carlson was overheard saying "Warm Springs residents are very good to their homeless."

Carlson said that she was likely going to stay at a condominium owned by Fitch's father.

The reality of the situation did not escape Carlson, however, who said that her first order of business would be to contact her insurance company.

The Ketchum Fire Department recommended in a press release on Thursday that outdoor cooking devices be kept at least 10 feet away from any structures with a fire extinguisher in close proximity.

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