7 pets survive house fire in Yampa
YAMPA — When Steamboat Springs radio DJ Kristin Cronin pulled into the driveway at her Yampa home on the night of Dec. 16, she could hear the loud beeping from the smoke alarms.
As soon as she opened the front door, she was hit with a wave of smoke — a thick, hazy, brown smog that smelled terrible.
All she was thinking about was her pets — the three dogs and four cats she knew were inside.
As she went in, Cronin saw the dogs sitting in the living room, covered in soot, traumatized by fear and disoriented from inhaling carbon dioxide.
She called to them, but they didn’t move.
There was a dog door through which they could have all escaped before she got home, but they were paralyzed.
So one by one, Cronin brought them out, carrying one dog and leading the other two by the collar.
Cronin put them in her car, the only safe place she could think of on the subzero night.
She found one cat and put it in the car with the dogs.
By this time, she had screamed for help from anyone within earshot and was on the phone with emergency dispatchers.
Though she had lived in Steamboat for more than 15 years, Cronin was relatively new to Yampa, having only moved into the rental property in August.
She didn’t know many people but woke her neighbor for help. He brought in a fire extinguisher and was using it in the kitchen, where the fire had originated — somewhere around the stove.
A single-cup coffee maker was entirely melted to the top of the electric stove.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
By the time the fire fighters arrived, the second cat had been found and was in the car. Two cats were still missing, and that was all Cronin could think about.
As the medics were loading her into the ambulance for smoke inhalation, the only thing Cronin wanted to do was to go back in for the cats.
After searching the house with infrared detection, the firefighters assured her the cats had gotten out.
Cronin was transported to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center where she stayed for about six hours, undergoing regular breathing treatments.
As she sat by herself in the emergency room, the gravity of the situation hit her. She called it the “most lonely feeling in the world,” breathing into the mask, knowing she’d lost her entire “material world.”
The next day, Cronin went back to her house to search for her two missing cats. She felt certain they were still inside. She opened a can of food, which always gets them to come. One cat, Charlotte, appeared instantly. Once white, the cat was black and gray and greasy. But when she reached down to pick up Charlotte, the cat ran away — totally uncharacteristic behavior.
Cronin followed her to an ottoman in a room furthest from the kitchen. She picked up the ottoman and found the last cat, Big Daddy, curled up in a hole inside the fabric netting below the cushion.
“I was so happy,” Cronin said. “I didn’t think I’d ever see them again, and they’ve been so good to me.”
While most of Cronin’s immediate family is deceased, with one sibling living on the East Coast, she has a strong network of friends in Steamboat.
Cronin has three jobs: working on air as a DJ with The Lift radio station from noon to 6 p.m. on weekdays, teaching improv and theater and working as an esthetician at multiple locations. She is also working on her certification as a wellness coach.
Two of her closest friends, Michelle and Clay Garner, drove her soot-covered animals to their home the night of the fire, before picking up Cronin from the hospital around 3 a.m.
The couple took her in for the holidays, along with the seven animals. All seven, plus Cronin, were coughing up black stuff for days, Cronin said. The Garners also set up a GoFundMe page to help with Cronin’s expenses.
The Garners ended up falling in love with and adopting the one dog Cronin was fostering.
One of the most heartbreaking decisions Cronin had to make in the days after the fire was to give one of her kitties, Oakley, away for adoption. She can’t talk about it without crying but knows she found Oakley a very good home with someone who already knew and loved the cat.
Cronin is now living in a hotel with two dogs and has friends watching her other three cats. She isn’t sure when they will all be together again, or when they can get back home.
Cronin had renter’s insurance, and that is covering her lodging for now. It will also cover some of her belongings, but the policy was bought as an “afterthought,” bundled with car insurance, Cronin said.
She’s very grateful for any coverage and an agent who has been her advocate. However, if she could do it over again, Cronin said she would have better documented her belongings and increased her coverage.
The contents of her house were a 90% loss, Cronin said. And every day there’s something she realizes she doesn’t have — from the bigger things, like her computer, to the smallest of things, like an envelope and a stamp.
Despite the uncertainty and upheaval, mostly what Cronin thinks about is how lucky she is that her animals are alive. And, of course, that she is alive.
Cronin admits that several of her friends were very angry with her for going back into the house multiple times the night of the fire.
“They told me it could have killed me,” she said.
She realizes this now, but in the moment, Cronin didn’t feel she had any choice.
“I saw their little faces — they were the most vulnerable thing I’ve seen,” she said. “There’s no way I could have not gone back in.”
In addition to the strong support of her friends, Cronin has been overwhelmed by “random acts of kindness” across the community. When she took all of her animals to Steamboat Veterinary Hospital to check for carbon monoxide poisoning, they treated all seven without charge.
When Cronin contacted “Doggy Style Mobile Pet Grooming” to help clean off the soot and grime, the woman washed all seven animals without charge.
When Cronin took her car to Mountain View Car Wash to get it detailed, they didn’t have any appointments available and offered to do it on Christmas Eve. She wouldn’t let them work on the holiday, but when they fit her in after Christmas, they said Cronin had been through enough and didn’t charge her.
“I’m finding different people that have provided all these random acts of kindness,” she said. “They’ve been so kind and generous — people I don’t even know. I can’t tell you the level of gratitude and humility I feel.”
It’s truly humbling to be in such a position of vulnerability, Cronin said. She is grateful but would be much more comfortable on the giving end rather than the receiving end.
When Cronin was reluctant, her friends told her — “Kristin, you need help.” And she did and still does.
Having missed work and uncertain how long insurance will cover a place to stay, Cronin is feeling the stress of housing insecurity and bills piling up. She was told clean-up could take as long as six months.
But as the shock wears off and the calendar turns to 2020, more than anything Cronin feels grateful.
“I’m starting out the year with more gratitude than I’ve ever in my life,” she said. “Me and my dogs and my kitties are safe. I can replace all that other stuff.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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