Fire death questions linger | SteamboatToday.com

Fire death questions linger

Officials: No smoke detector in apartment; permit status unclear

Zach Fridell

Crime scene tape blocks the front entrance to the small residential unit at 705 Pine St. Longtime Steamboat Springs resident David Engle died during a small fire in the apartment early Sunday morning. An occupant in the adjacent home, at left, couldn't reach Engle in time to save him.

— There were no smoke detectors in the Old Town apartment of a man who died early Sunday morning after a small fire broke out in his kitchen, Steamboat Springs fire officials said Monday. County and city officials also haven’t found any records indicating the small apartment had the proper permits for occupancy.

The small blaze, in a converted garage apartment at 705 Pine St., killed David Engle, 40, a Steamboat Springs High School graduate who had lived in town since he was about 10.

Neighbor Chris Seefelt, who lives in the adjoining home, was roused by two young children in his house who noticed the smoke early Sunday morning.

“The smoke was from ceiling down to waist level” in Seefelt’s adjoining unit, he said. The two residences shared a door, blocked off by a refrigerator, where smoke entered his kitchen.

Seefelt ran outside and around to Engle’s apartment door to try to rescue him.

“When I kicked in his door it took three minutes before the smoke cleared enough that I could crawl in,” he said.

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Seefelt pulled Engle out of the apartment, but he and his dog, Luna, were already dead.

Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said Engle likely died from smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning. Results of an autopsy will be available within the next two days.

Engle, a subcontractor who painted, installed drywall, framed buildings and also worked as a plumber, had no immediate family in town. His parents, Duane Engle from Colorado Springs and Mariane Engle of Green Valley, Ariz., arrived in town Monday morning with his sister Margy Rimland.

Duane said he recently purchased a new carbon monoxide detector for his home and intended to give his old detector to David, but because of scheduling conflicts, he never got the chance to deliver it.

“I’m here now,” he said Monday as he stood outside David’s apartment.

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Bob Struble said there was no fire to fight when responders were dispatched to the apartment at 3:50 a.m. Sunday; the blaze had burned itself out.

Fire scorched the top third of the interior of the apartment above the gas stove, Fire Marshall Jay Muhme said, but no damage was visible from the outside.

Muhme said an investigation is under way but that no smoke detectors were found in the house immediately after the fire.

“It’s possible that having a smoke detector in the house could have made the outcome different,” Muhme said.

Building codes require that, in new construction, smoke detectors be installed in all bedrooms and immediately outside each bedroom. The same guidelines must be followed when a home undergoes alterations, repairs and additions, including when one or more sleeping rooms are added or created in existing houses.

Struble said it was unclear whether those provisions apply to Engle’s apartment because officials don’t yet know when the apartment was built and whether the current regulations had been adopted at that time.

Seefelt said he has lived in the home for about 10 years and that the apartment occupied by Engle used to be a garage, but he was unclear about when the conversion took place.

Engle’s apartment, listed on his door as 705 Pine St., is attached to the apartment where Seefelt was sleeping, at 243 Seventh St.

Both are owned by Jeff and Trigg Gerber of Steamboat. The Gerbers purchased the structure, listed as 243 Seventh St., in September 2007 for $612,000. Jeff Gerber said the property was divided into two apartments at the time of the purchase. Seefelt said Engle had lived in the apartment for about a year and a half.

According to the Routt County Assessor’s online database, the home at 243 Seventh St. has two bedrooms, one bathroom and a garage. However, there is no garage on the property.

The home was owned by the Thurston family of Oak Creek from February 2004 to September 2007. Tamara and Thomas Thurston could not be reached for comment Monday evening. Old Town Inn owned the home from 1994 to 2004.

Searches of records at the Routt County Assessor’s Office, the Routt County Regional Building Department and the Steamboat Springs Department of Planning and Community Development did not produce any documents that indicate the required permits were filed to convert the garage into a residence.

Officials at all three offices didn’t rule out the possibility that the permits were issued but not immediately available.

“We do not have on our records that the garage is a habitable unit,” Routt County Assessor Mike Kerrigan said.

The Assessor’s Office lists the property at 243 Seventh St. as having a garage built in the 1940s, but 705 Pine St. is not listed in any records.

To legally turn a garage into an apartment, Kerrigan said the plans would need to be submitted and put through a review process. There are no records to show that process took place for the Seventh Street address.

Kerrigan also said that although there are many illegal buildings in Steamboat, enforcement of the regulations is lax.

Enforcement of city codes falls to the Department of Planning and Community Development.

Bob Keenan, senior planner for the Planning Department, said they had no records of a secondary unit on the lot and that the address of 705 Pine St. was never issued.

Keenan said the department does not routinely search for illegal units and typically issues only one or two citations per year after complaints are made.

“Obviously life safety is an issue,” he said. “But we don’t actively pursue illegal units. It’s not something we’re budgeted for.”

Memorial service

A memorial service for Steamboat Springs resident David Engle is at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Yampa River Botanic Park. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Routt County Humane Society, P.O. Box 772080, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477.

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