Flanigan family rebuilds after August 2016 fire destroys Steamboat Springs home
December 31, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Gardner Flanigan returned to his family's Steamboat Springs home for the first time, he walked up and spotted two pieces of paper on the ground next to the ashes.
Despite Gardner and his wife, Millie, losing all of their material possessions in the blaze, what was on the other side of those papers made the couple realize they still had the two things that mattered the most.
Just a day earlier, the Flanigans were about to head home after attending a family reunion in Minnesota when Millie received a phone call in the middle of the night on Aug. 13, 2016, with a Steamboat Springs police officer on the other end of the line.
"He said there was an emergency," Millie said. "He said, 'Your house is engulfed in flames.'"
Neighbors felt helpless as they watched flames consume the Flanigans' single-family home on Fish Creek Falls Road.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, and firefighters were able to protect neighboring homes.
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"It went from being this tragic event to being relieved," said Millie, who works as a physician's assistant.
Still states away, the Flanigans talked to an officer again the next day, and the officer paused before saying "I'm really sure there is nothing left."
"We knew the people here in Steamboat did all they could," Gardner said. "They started the healing with their compassion."
While heading to the airport for the trip home, the couple pulled over their car in a state park to tell their children, Bode and Merritt, what happened.
"When we told the kids, we were very matter of fact," Gardner said.
Understandably, the kids were shocked, and the family took turns bursting into tears during the drive, especially over the loss of their dog, Lola.
There were constant text messages from friends, which prompted even more emotion. Millie explained to her daughter that they were "tears of happiness."
Once back in Steamboat, the Skov family opened up their home to the Flanigans, who stayed with their friends for two weeks before finding a rental.
"We walked in, and they had made signs with pictures," Millie said. "Downstairs, people had already dropped off clothes. That was amazing."
More donations arrived, including money that children had raised from a lemonade stand.
"We will not be the first or the last to get this gratitude in the community," Millie said.
Reality sets in
Gardner was the only one who wanted to see the ruins of the family home the night they returned to Steamboat.
"I just wanted to see it," he said. "It was really gone and still smoldering."
He picked up those pieces of paper off the ground, which turned out to be photos that had been kept in a dresser. One was of an image of Bode skate-skiing. It included Bode's autograph, and he wrote "to dad."
The other was a photo of Merritt that Gardner had taken during a father-daughter birthday trip to New York.
The edges of Merritt's photo were slightly burned.
Gardner speculated the heat from the fire caused the photos to fly away from the inferno that fire officials concluded was caused by a defective dishwasher.
Finding those photos helped put the tragedy into perspective for the Flanigans.
"My take was everything that mattered in life was still there," Gardner said. "There was that healing that started that night."
Gardner framed the photos and keeps them in his office at the Moving Mountains vacation rental company, where he works as the director of operations.
When Bode later visited the house, he warned his dad that he might need some time alone. "And I said 'OK,'" Gardner said.
"That's where we used to have Christmas," Bode said to his dad.
Gardner remembers Bode sitting on a rock on the hillside and watching cars stop to look at the damage. When Bode saw that, he said he knew people were hurting for his family.
Despite the loss of their home, life continued on for the Flanigans.
The kids went back to school and trained for Alpine ski racing, and Gerber Berend Design Build began planning the Flanigans' new house with local builders doing what they could to keep costs low.
The Flanigans met challenges along the road to rebuilding.
The insurance money did not cover the cost of building the house as it once was.
The workaround to this was to build an apartment above the garage that would generate revenue to help the family afford its larger mortgage.
The shell and layout of their new home are essentially the same as the old one.
To keep costs down, the foundation was reused in addition to the driveway, which is stained with patches of melted car.
The family finally got to experience that new-home smell in early November, right in time for the holidays.
They got all new furniture and appliances and were able to design a new flow for the home that worked for their family.
There is still some landscaping that needs to be done after losing 27 trees in the fire.
"We have a nice view of Emerald Mountain now without all the trees," Gardner said. "All these weird silver linings."
Christmas with the Flanigans
The family decorated the Christmas tree when busy schedules brought them all together.
In addition to decorating, 10-year-old Merritt, who aspires to be a jewelry maker or designer for Nike, likes to show off her magic tricks.
The Flanigans consider themselves connoisseurs of Christmas ornaments, and the ones Gardner inherited from his parents were destroyed in the fire.
"That's all gone for me, and that matters," Gardner said. "Losing that connection with my parents."
Some ornaments were salvaged from the fire and still smelled like smoke, but they graced the branches of the tree anyway.
The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and a neighbor donated boxes of ornaments and there was also a gift of hand-knitted stockings.
"We may have more ornaments on our tree than any other," Gardner said.
"It's sometimes much easier to be on the giving end than the receiving end," Millie said.
On Christmas morning, the Flanigans continued family traditions in their new home.
Gardner made a Christmas quiche. It is his mother's recipe consisting of 16 eggs and 1 1/2 pounds of cheese.
Bode's birthday falls on Christmas, which means he always gets to choose the dinner menu.
This year, the 15-year-old chose Moe’s Original Bar B Que.
Given all that the Flanigans have been through during the past 16 months, Christmas in their new home was a success.
"For how new it was, it felt very comfortable," Gardner said.
"There was a certain familiarity with it that was nice," Millie added.