Century-old house consumed by fire
A fire consumed one of the oldest ranch houses in Pitkin County and lit up the pre-dawn sky for early-morning commuters Monday.
The fire destroyed a two-story guest house on the Meanwhile … Ranch at 1621 Lower River Road. The house was built in 1911, according to Gary Feldman, a representative of the owner, Galardi Group Development LLC. The century-old house had been renovated over the years, but the exterior was still rustic. It included what was believed to be an original potato cellar.
The Basalt Fire Department received the call for the structure fire at 5 a.m. Firefighter Bob Guion found the house “completely engulfed” when he arrived with the first engine. Flames were shooting out the windows and doors and roughly as high as a 30-foot chimney protruding from the house.
“The back three-fourths of the house was on fire,” Guion said. “Within 15 minutes, the roof collapsed into the structure.”
Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said he could see the lit-up sky as far away as Holland Hills as he was rushing the fire. The ranch is 1.6 miles east of the Old Snowmass Conoco and about 5 miles east of Basalt. The century-old house was the closest structure on the property to the Rio Grande Trail. The property is highly visible from both Lower River Road and Highway 82.
No one was occupying the house, Thompson said. One firefighter suffered a minor knee injury while battling the flames.
Thompson said the department took a defensive approach to fighting the fire because it had consumed so much of the house by the time it was called in. No firefighters were allowed to enter the structure. They attacked it from outside. They were assisted by a fire truck and crew from Snowmass Village and two trucks and crews from Aspen. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office also assisted in the effort.
Basalt firefighters remained on the scene throughout the day. They sprayed foam on hotspots in mid-morning, after the flames had been extinguished.
Thompson said one of the caretakers on the ranch left to go to another job at 4 a.m. and didn’t see any flames or problems. A passerby on Highway 82 called in the fire to the emergency dispatch center at about 5 a.m. A deputy sheriff who was one of the first responders on the scene woke up another caretaker in a different residence.
Thompson said no other structures were threatened by the fire.
“The only thing that’s unusual is how quickly it burned,” Thompson said. He was surprised that the house was fully engulfed at 5 a.m. when there was no sign of trouble at 4 a.m.
No cause was determined as of Monday morning. Thompson said he asked the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to get involved in the investigation as well as the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
The property has historic significance from the valley’s ranching heyday and its modern celebrity era. Michael Jackson visited the ranch in winter 2003-04 when different owners had it. The pop star used it as a retreat in the midst of legal and personal troubles.
Galardi Group purchased the ranch from Davis and Eleanor Pillsbury and their Taylor Pillsbury Globe Trust in August 2004. It sold for $15.5 million, according to a deed filed with the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder.
The Pillsburies completed a main house in 2000. The property was part of a much larger ranch that was settled in 1886 and included an settler’s cabin from that era. Other buildings dating from its early ranching days include a stable and barn. Those structures weren’t affected by the fire.
The century-old house that burned was 2,496 square feet, with four bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Meanwhile … Ranch is currently listed for sale for $25 million.
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