Houses, pets lost in Redlands Mesa Fire Fire likely human-caused

No people hurt, but pets die in blaze over 240 acres

Photos by BEVERLY CORBELL/The Daily Sentinel
STEVE SCHROEDER of the Hotchkiss Volunteer Fire Department surveys damage Friday morning on Redlands Mesa between Hotchkiss and Delta. The blaze that was fanned by high winds was likely human-caused, officials said. It was mostly contained as of Friday evening.

HOTCHKISS — When police stopped Arthur Harriman on his drive home Thursday from Paonia to Redlands Mesa, he learned fire was threatening his home.

Harriman was told to come back two hours later, at approximately 9 p.m., and when he did, he knew it was no use: His mobile home on Rimrock Drive was gone.

“I could see my whole hillside on fire,” he said, and he turned around and drove back to Paonia.

All he has left now is his dog, a black Lab mix named Spunky, who was not at home when the fire broke out “because he’s always by my side,” Harriman said.

Harriman said he bought the 20-foot travel trailer about three months ago and lost everything except a few things he had in storage.

“I lost my all library books,” he said.

“And the photos of his late father,” said his mother, Judy Reed.

Harriman said the home of his landlord, Richard Kowalski, who was out of town, was totally destroyed, and his three German shepherds probably died in the blaze.

“The firemen said they saw one dead dog, and the others were probably trapped,” he said.

No human injuries were reported in the blaze, which was fanned by high winds and spread from 80 acres Thursday to 240 acres Friday. The fire was 40 percent contained by late afternoon Friday.
Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee said one cat was severely burned and had to be euthanized. He said two other families who lost their homes were staying with relatives in the area.

While pumpers, tankers and fire crews moved across the mesa to fight the fire and put out hot spots, American Red Cross volunteers Dick Schultz and Sharon Miles met with Harriman and his mother at the fire command center on 2800 Road.

Harriman said he was staying with friends in Paonia for the time being. Miles said the Red Cross will give him a cash card, money for groceries, clothes and bedding linens.

Rob Fiedler, emergency manager for Delta County, said three occupied homes were destroyed along with two unoccupied buildings by the fire that started on Rimrock Road at approximately 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

Firefighters from the Rimrock substation of the Hotchkiss Fire Department were up on the mesa shortly after the fire started, Hotchkiss firefighter Steve Shroeder said. Working ahead of the blaze, the Hotchkiss firefighters had a few tense moments when fire swept over them as they were wetting down a house in the 27000 block of P-25 Road.

“They took shelter behind a truck, and the flames shot over their heads,” he said. “I’ll bet they got six year’s worth of adrenaline outta that.”

Within minutes, the firefighters were back at the house, battling the blaze. It took three tries, Schroeder said, but by breaking out a back window with a large rock, the firefighters were able to get water inside and put the fire out in a back room, saving most of the home.

Schroeder said the owner of the house had recently cut back fuel-bearing vegetation near the house, which probably helped keep it from going up in smoke.

As Schroeder drove to a destroyed house in the 24000 block of P-25 Road, with a flattened, burned mobile home behind it, he said the origin of the fire is still not known, but appears to be man-made.

“That doesn’t mean it was intentional or accidental,” he said. “But we don’t think it was lightning.”

As of Friday evening, firefighters had contained most of the blaze, but were planning to attack what’s left of the fire this morning. Predicted rain should help in that effort, but forecast winds gusting from 15 to 25 mph could also prove to be problematic for firefighters, officials said.


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