Community rallies to support man who lost everything in fire |

Community rallies to support man who lost everything in fire

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand Lake CO Colorado

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News

“Dewey” Doug Winger lost his home and belongings in the fire that scorched a warehouse, sawmill and sheds in the presence of oil drums on the property, propane tanks, fuel tanks, tires and underground dynamite stored in a metal box.

For Winger, property owner John Waller and family, and friend Erin Stevens, the loss from the June 24 fire near Grand Lake across Highway 34 from Johnson’s Landing was extreme.

Winger, who had been cutting trees with Waller in the Fraser Valley at the time of the fire only to learn later he’d lost “everything” at the warehouse office-turned apartment space he rented in Waller’s building, had been pet-sitting for Stevens’ dog and bird at the time.

Two neighbors to the property were able to rescue Stevens’ border collie-mix “Pepper” from the fire, but her small parrot “Squeaky” was not saved.

And friends have since located collection jars at Grand Lake-area businesses to benefit Winger.

For Grand Lake Fire Chief Mike Long, the scene on which he arrived that day spelled out the possibility for a large forest fire – the type the community has feared.

“During the initial tones of the flame lengths and the log decks and trees torching, I got dry mouth,” he said, “thinking this could be the ‘big one.'”

En-route, fire fighters learned there were log decks fully involved, trees torching, 40-foot flame lengths and nearby structures threatened.

Five apparatus arrived on the scene “very quickly,” he said, with crews augmented by U.S. forest firefighters. Hosted by foresters of the Sulphur Ranger District, area firefighters happened to be taking part in a wildland training course near the Idleglenn staging area off of Highway 34 at the time the Waller fire struck.

The first engine that arrived along with a U.S. Forest Service crew got assigned to the north side of the fire, with a south wind pushing north, Long said.

As firefighters worked to contain the blaze, the forest service crew was walking through bushes to make sure there weren’t any spot fires ignited by flying fire debris.

“They found seven spot fires they were able to put out,” Long said.

Meanwhile, crews at the structures were working to contain the fire to that property alone, he said.

“Our priority wasn’t to save the buildings because there was nothing we could do for those, there was too much fire loading. We would never generate enough water flow to stop it. Our focus was to make sure it didn’t extend to the north,” Long said. “There were a number of additional log decks and sage bushes that are very flammable and dead and live trees – all to the north – and it would have run through several subdivisions.”

The fact that Waller’s property had few grown trees had been a saving grace, he said.

When the sawmill was fully engulfed, it created flame lengths estimated to be 50 feet to 60 feet, which started the tire shop on fire, he said.

“As difficult as I’m sure it was for the owners to lose those structures, to me that was price to pay to save the community.”

The start of the fire is still under investigation, said Investigator Leo Piechocki of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday. Piechocki said that so far, it didn’t appear that any intentional crime had been committed.