Oak Creek man remembered for service
Dennis Eugene Harris was killed in home explosion early Wednesday
Oak Creek — A 64-year-old Oak Creek man killed Wednesday in an apparent propane gas explosion was remembered for his kind nature and service to local senior citizens.
Dennis Eugene Harris, 64, was at home at 208 Carbon Ave. in Oak Creek when the explosion occurred just after 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Harris, known as Geno or Gene to friends and neighbors, was a shuttle driver for the Routt County Council on Aging.
Harris lived alone with his dog, Buddy, who escaped the explosion. For the past three years, Harris drove the council’s South Routt van and did part-time cement work.
Shelley Orrell, the council’s program director, praised Harris for his work with the elderly, which included providing transportation for the council’s senior lunch program, exercise classes and other social activities.
“He’s been an outstanding driver, great with outreach and getting people to come,” Orrell said. “He always went above and beyond.”
The shuttle van Harris used to transport South Routt senior citizens was parked at his home at the time of the explosion. Many of its windows were blown out.
When the explosion hit, the walls of the home blew out and the roof collapsed, reducing the home to burning rubble, Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup said. The ensuing fire was contained by noon, though fire crews continued to extinguish hot spots into the afternoon, Wisecup said.
Harris is believed to have survived the initial explosion. Crews reportedly heard him calling for help when they arrived on scene but were unable to locate anyone in the wreckage until the afternoon.
Harris’ body was found in the crawlspace underneath his house, Wisecup said. It was unclear if he had been trying to do any work down there, as no one had heard of Harris having frozen water pipes or any other problems, he said.
Harris’ preliminary cause of death is smoke inhalation, Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said. An autopsy is expected this weekend, he said.
The man’s family was notified of his death Wednesday night, though Ryg noted that he still is awaiting dental records needed to confirm the identification.
Numerous law enforcement and emergency response agencies, including Oak Creek police, the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, and fire crews from Oak Creek and Steamboat Springs responded to the scene Wednesday. Oak Creek Public Works crews also were on scene to help remove debris.
Although the fire was contained to Harris’ residence, the blast shattered windows and skylights at nearby homes. One adjacent home sustained significant exterior damage on the side facing the explosion, Wisecup said.
A propane leak is believed to be the source of the explosion, but the official cause still is under investigation, Wisecup said.
Neighbors told investigators Harris’ propane tank had been filled Monday, and several people in the area had reported smelling propane since, Wisecup said.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation will inspect the site Thursday morning, and it will be cordoned off as a crime scene until the investigation is complete, Wisecup said.
“Until CBI gets here and we begin to reconstruct, we won’t really know much more,” he said.
According to the Routt County Assessor’s database, Peter Nauman of Steamboat Springs purchased the home at 208 Carbon Ave. in November 2004. The 674-square-foot, one-bedroom home had wood siding, according to the Assessor’s Office sales record.
Wednesday’s tragedy was the second devastating fire at a South Routt residence in about two months.
In December 2007, Phippsburg resident Kathy Foos, her son Jules Hedemark and her infant grandson narrowly escaped a fire that burned her house to the ground. The fire was started by ashes in the fireplace.
Two Yampa men were seriously injured in a propane explosion in May 2006. Mike Teters and Chuck Broadbent suffered severe second- and third-degree burns. The men were replacing a propane water heater in Teters’ home when one of the men lit a match to check the draft.
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