Sheriffs realize losing their rental nothing to what tenants went through |

Sheriffs realize losing their rental nothing to what tenants went through

Heather McGregor

Dave and Jeanne Sheriff were in Las Vegas, tacking a weekend vacation onto a conference Jeanne planned to attend the following week, when their daughter called to tell them Glenwood Springs was on fire.

Flying home the next day, June 9, they didn’t know whether their own home in West Glenwood, or their rental duplex on Mitchell Creek Road, had survived the Coal Seam Fire.

“We thought our house was gone,” Dave Sheriff said. “But we flew over Glenwood twice, once going to Denver and a second time going to Grand Junction, and we could see our house was still there.”

The couple, owners of HealthStyles Exercise Equipment Co., learned later that their rental duplex, at 0098 County Road 132, was burned to the ground.

“If, on a 1-10 scale, losing your own house is a 10, we’re at about a 2 or 3,” Sheriff said of the emotional toll of losing the rental. “It’s almost a business-type thing. But obviously the emotions of the renters come into play.”

In their case, one longtime tenant who moved out weeks earlier escaped the loss, while another couple, new to the valley that had just moved in a week earlier, lost everything. And the longtime tenant’s son still had many of his things stored in a shed on the property, which burned as well.

None of the tenants had renter’s insurance, which covers personal property.

“We were covered on our homeowners’ policy, but we had nothing to cover our tenants,” Sheriff said. “We felt helpless.”

For their new tenants, former Aspen Glen golf pro Peter Van Wart and his fiancee, the fire was doubly traumatic, since their dog was shut up in the house while they were both at work. Van Wart drove back to Glenwood Springs and tried to get home to rescue the dog, but police wouldn’t let him through, Jeanne Sheriff said.

“It was so sad for them. She was very devastated,” Jeanne said.

“That was the absolute worst thing,” added Dave.

While the couple had no insurance for their possessions, the Sheriff’s insurance company, State Farm, wrote the tenants a check three days after the fire to cover three months of rent in another location. And Dave Sheriff immediately refunded their rent and deposits.

“They’re the ones that really went through the trauma,” Dave Sheriff said.

“They had nothing but the clothes on their backs and their cars. They were new in town, and both of them lost every picture, memento and record of their lives.”

“We offered to collect things for them,” Jeanne Sheriff said,” and we did collect some stuff. But they didn’t have a plan. They didn’t know what they were going to do.”

For a time, Van Wart and his fiancee stayed at the home of Jeff and Gay Wisch, and then moved to a place in Basalt. Van Wart’s telephone has since been disconnected, and the Sheriffs said they lost contact with the couple.

The Sheriffs said they feel regret about not doing more for their tenants.

“We tried to do whatever we could,” Jeanne Sheriff said.

They feel grateful that the other unit was vacant.

Oddly enough, the apartment was still listed for rent in the paper, and the Sheriffs got calls the week after the fire from people interested in renting it.

Now, the Sheriffs are making plans to rebuild. “It’s going to be a brand-new neighborhood in there,” Jeanne Sheriff said.

They were the last ones on the road to demolish the burned remains, finishing the job about two months ago.

“Since it wasn’t our own house, we didn’t have the push other people had,” Jeanne Sheriff said.

They hoped they could reuse the foundation. But like other owners who lost houses in the fire, they found that the intense heat almost pulverized the foundation. The rebar in the concrete lost all its tensile strength, and the 10-inch-thick foundation wall “was like powder,” Jeanne Sheriff said.

Now they hope to build something better.

Meanwhile, although it’s been months since the fire, the Sheriffs heaped high praise on the valley firefighters who reacted quickly to stop the fire from spreading deeper into West Glenwood’s neighborhoods and commercial areas and the city’s new buildings on Glenwood Meadows.

“It had to be an unbelievably gallant effort to save the Municipal Operations Center and the Community Center,” said Dave Sheriff. “And at Lee Green’s trailer park (Robin Hood Mobile Home Park), you can tell where the fire department came in and just took a stand. It was a super-human effort to save what was there.”

“It could have been much worse,” Jeanne Sheriff added. “It kind of gives you a renewed vote of confidence in them doing everything they could do, to save as much as they possibly could.”

In her view, Glenwood Springs is in what she calls a “fire historical focal point.”

But the Sheriffs firmly believe that in spite of the natural hazards, the Glenwood Springs community is “not going to break a stride” in its growth and development.

As they spoke a week and a half ago, crews were installing the towers for the new Glenwood Caverns tramway on Iron Mountain, while other workers were building new homes for other victims of the Coal Seam Fire.

“There is so much positive here,” Jeanne Sheriff said. “The community is just unfolding in front of your eyes.”

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