House fire suspicious

The Routt County Sheriff's office and Colorado Bureau of Investigation continue to investigate the cause of a fire that destroyed a Tree Haus home in December.

The Dec. 8 fire consumed the 3,600-square-foot home at 36853 Tree Haus Drive. No one was injured in the fire.

Sheriff's Office Investigator Ken Klinger said the relative speed with which the house burned has raised suspicions.

The owners of the house, Jean and Jeffrey Wolf, and a caretaker, Scott Rouda, all were away from the home the night of the fire. The Wolfs had recently moved into a home in the Catamount area, and Rouda was looking after their Tree Haus property.

Attempts to contact the Wolfs were unsuccessful.

Nine months before the fire at the Wolfs' home, Rouda's house at 36897 Tree Haus Drive was heavily damaged in a fire. The cause of that fire has not been determined, and the fire is under investigation by the sheriff's office and the Steamboat Springs Fire Department.

Though Rouda links the two fires, they are being treated as separate cases with two separate investigators working on them, Klinger said.

In two months, the CBI is expected to have its analysis back from evidence taken at the December fire. And, Klinger predicted, it will be another month before the CBI releases its report from the on-scene investigation stating the cause and origin of the fire.

Though investigators are suspicious of the speed with which the fire spread and the circumstances surrounding it, they have no direct evidence indicating arson and no suspects, Klinger said.

"We don't have a smoking gun," Klinger said. "I wish we did."

On Dec. 9 at about 10:30 p.m., in the middle of a heavy snowstorm, a fire was reported at the Wolfs' house. Steep, icy roads hampered the Steamboat Springs Fire Department's efforts to reach the house.

At about 9:25 p.m. that night, Klinger said one neighbor saw what looked to be a fire from a barbecue grill. About 15 minutes later, the fire was raging.

"A house with big wood frames and lots of tile like this one just doesn't burn instantly," Klinger said.

"That doesn't sit in with the normal mechanics of a fire."

The last time anybody was seen at the house was at 2 p.m. that day, Klinger said. The Wolfs and Rouda were at dinner that night.

"I know absolutely where everyone was, up to and including the 911 call," Klinger said.

Two fire trucks were unable to reach the burning home, and a wrecker that was called to help a fire engine stuck in the snow slid off the road on the way back down.

Once firefighters arrived at the scene, the home was fully engulfed. Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble had said even if the trucks were able to reach the fire, there was not enough water near the home to fight it.

Ten firefighters, who were shuttled to the scene by an ambulance, were able to use one low-pressure hose to save a detached garage.

Both the Wolfs and Rouda have previous experience with home fires.

Rouda's Tree Haus home was heavily damaged in a fire April 10. At about 6:30 a.m., a neighbor noticed smoke coming from the roofline of the house. The fire department responded to the fire before 7 a.m. and had it extinguished by 8:15 a.m.

The fire damaged the basement and the first floor of the 3,000-square-foot home. Part of the first floor collapsed after the fire was extinguished.

At the time of the fire, Rouda's house was listed for sale at $879,000 and had been on the market for about two years.

Sheriff's Office Investigator Rachelle Redmond would not comment on the investigation, except to say it is ongoing. The CBI is not investigating the April fire.

The Wolfs, too, previously lost a home to fire. The sheriff's office learned that a rural, recreational cabin they owned was destroyed in a California wildfire that destroyed several other structures, Klinger said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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