Rocks rain on Glenwood house |

Rocks rain on Glenwood house

Jeremy Heiman
Special to the Post Independent
Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox

Two Glenwood Springs residents experienced a rude awakening very early Tuesday morning.

Hager Lane homeowner Ron Dickman and his renter, Jimmy Farris, were jolted awake when a seven-foot boulder estimated to weigh seven or eight tons tore through their house at 1:30 a.m. Neither Dickman nor Farris was injured, but damage to the house is extensive.

The boulder entered through the west wall of a southwest room on the ground floor of the house, leaving a 6-by-10-foot hole.

It ripped through the house on a diagonal, splintering off about one-third of a ground-floor bathroom, caving in floors and tearing out a stairway. The rock came to rest in the middle of the living room, in the northeast corner of the house, sunk slightly into the floor, pinning a twisted recliner chair against a wall.

Another boulder, this one about six feet long and four feet wide, came to rest in the southwest room, which is Dickman’s office.

“It sounded like an explosion,” Dickman said. “Stuff was flying everywhere.” Glass broke, furniture fell, and wallboard disintegrated. It took Dickman a moment to realize what happened, he said.

It was quiet by the time he got to his bedroom door. The air was filled with dust, and there was a huge boulder in the living room.

Dickman yelled to Farris to find out whether he was hurt. His ancient dog, who sleeps in the living room, was luckily unhurt as well.

“She’s so arthritic it usually takes her about three minutes to get up,” Dickman said.

Insurance won’t cover the damage

Dickman contacted an insurance adjuster early in the morning, and received bad news. He was informed that his homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t cover any of the damage.

A structural engineer made a preliminary examination of the house early Tuesday, but no estimate of the damage was available, Dickman said. Cameron Lobato, an engineer with Yenter Companies, estimated that it might cost $1,500 to $1,800 just to get the boulder out of the living room.

Meanwhile, city building officials determined the house is not safe to live in, and ordered Dickman and his tenant to move out until the damages are repaired.

Outside, there’s more mayhem. The boulders in the house were among several that broke loose from an outcrop 1,000 feet above and rolled through the Hager Lane neighborhood at the same time.

The boulder that came into the house left a three-foot-wide, 18-inch-deep gouge in the backyard, leaving red earth contrasts with the green grass. In an empty lot to the south is an even bigger crater, where a huge boulder bounced and broke up.

“It’s just like a meteor hit there,” Farris said.

The explosion threw a 20-foot-long tongue of dirt into Dickman’s yard, packing soil inches thick and chest-high on a tree trunk.

“We were digging the dirt off this tree, and there were earthworms in it,” Farris said. A wooden picnic table nearby was reduced to kindling.

An 11-inch rock perhaps two inches thick pierced the asphalt shingles on Dickman’s roof and remained stuck like an arrowhead in the plywood roof sheeting.

Riverway rock wall also hit

Realtor Kent Jolley, who developed the Riverway subdivision just to the south of Dickman’s house, hired contractors to design and build the stucco-coated boulder wall visible along Midland Avenue above the neighborhood in 1999. That wall successfully protected the Riverway during Tuesday morning’s event.

“The wall worked perfectly,” Jolley said. “There was no damage to anything in Riverway subdivision.”

One boulder took a two-by-two-foot chunk out of the wall, Jolley said, and rolled on over. But the wall absorbed most of the rock’s momentum, and it fell on a building’s deck without damage.

Rockfall mitigation was planned

Dickman, a self-employed accountant and bookkeeper, finds it ironic that his house was damaged by rockfall at this time.

His recent application to subdivide his lot and erect a rockfall mitigation structure above the two lots was declined by the Glenwood Springs City Council in a 4-3 vote on Feb. 5.

The rockfall mitigation structure to protect Dickman’s two lots was to have been built above Midland Avenue, on property owned by the city. Glenwood Springs community development director Andrew McGregor said the City Council approved everything but the “license to encroach,” a document that permits a citizen to build such a structure on city property.

McGregor said he’s not sure whether the wall would have been installed by now if Dickman had received his necessary approvals two months ago.

But the rock was so large and fell from so high on the cliff, the fence might not have been effective, he said.

“Even if it was approved, we don’t know whether it would have stopped the rocks,” he said.

But Dickman said he doesn’t blame the city for holding up the application. The rockfall could have happened at any time, he said, and a boulder could conceivably hit his house even with the rockfall fence in place.

“You can’t mitigate 100 percent of the possibilities,” he said.

Submarine fence may stop other boulders

The device Dickman hopes to place above his home, known as a “submarine fence,” is commonly used by Colorado Department of Transportation to protect state highways from rockfall, and is in use in Glenwood Canyon.

Submarine fence is a tough steel mesh, anchored deeply in the ground, originally designed to keep submarines out of harbors during World War II. Poles above Midland Avenue indicate where the device was to be installed.

Dickman hopes to continue with his application ” he’s scheduled to go before City Council again April 15 ” and eventually put up the submarine fence.

“If (another boulder) comes down in the future, maybe I’ll have this up, and it’ll stop it,” he said Tuesday.

Dickman said he’s just taking the event as a lesson in life, and he’s extremely happy with the sympathy and help he’s received from his friends and neighbors.

“My neighbors have been great, coming over to offer help and everything,” Dickman said. People have offered him food, tools, and free labor. “It renews my faith in humanity,” he said.

” Post Independent staff writer Greg Masse contributed to this report.

Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext. 534

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