Victims, firemen at odds after blaze
Post Independent Staff
NEW CASTLE ” When you’re a homeowner and your house is on fire, help can’t seem to come quick enough.
And when you’re a firefighter arriving at a scene, your main objective is to save lives and put out the fire.
Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t always agree on how the tragedy is taken care of.
A recent incident involving a family whose home burnt down in Apple Tree Park last week has both the homeowners and the fire department at odds as to how the fire was handled.
The family says water was not put on the fire for more than 30 minutes after the fire department arrived and that they subsequently lost at least 80 percent of their belongings. The fire chief says his crew salvaged all they could and that the family and their dog are just lucky to be alive.
The initial report was made to emergency dispatch at 11:17 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 5, of a mobile home on fire that belonged to Diane and Mike Renteria.
According to the Renterias, most of their things were destroyed in the fire, despite a report that stated 80 percent of their things had been salvaged.
“We lost 80 percent or more of our belongings,” Diane Renteria said. “Everything that was not in a cabinet was destroyed, including bedding, TVs, receivers and electronics.”
The Renterias also have a problem with the time frame in which the fire was put out.
“They responded pretty quickly, but there was no water put on the fire for at least 30 or 40 minutes after they got there,” Diane said.
She also said firefighters claimed the fire was under control, when there were a number of neighboring witnesses who said they saw flames coming out of the roof until 1 a.m.
According to Brit McLin, fire chief for the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, the volunteers at the district, as well as volunteer help from Apple Tree Park, responded to the fire in a timely manner.
He said they remained on the scene for 12 hours until Friday morning.
“We received the call at 11:18 p.m. and the last of the four trucks arrived at 11:40 p.m.,” McLin said. “There was already water flowing when that (last) engine came on scene ” clearly it was not 40 minutes after we got there.”
The fire appears to have started in a wood-burning stove. The fire then moved into the attic of the home.
McLin questioned whether the Renterias had seen that there was a firefighter with a hose inside of the house attempting to push the fire out instead of fighting it from the rooftop, pushing it back into the living quarters. He added that just because there are still flames from a fire, doesn’t necessarily mean that the fire isn’t under control.
“It’s (deemed) under control when it stops spreading and stops getting bigger,” McLin said.
Still, the Renterias feel that there was an error in the amount of time it took to respond to the fire and the method of how it was put out.
Of the $43,000 payoff owed on the mobile home, the insurance company has said it will only pay $37,000.
“I’m going to walk away owing $6,000,” Diane said. “It’s a total loss.”
McLin said he sympathizes with the family for their loss, but says he and his crew were only trying to help and are not responsible for the fire. He expressed anger that the family blamed his crew for what he felt was a job well done.
“In 30 years, I’ve never experienced before when the (fire crew members) have been abused and lambasted like this,” McLin said.
“Normally, the (fire victims) would be bringing us cinnamon rolls the next day. This was a sad event, but it was wonderful because my biggest fear has always been a fire in Apple Tree that I was afraid would go from one end of the park to the other.”
McLin said he is mostly glad that nobody was injured or killed.
“Everybody is alive, and even the family dog is fine,” he said. “This is a wonderful outcome.”
Following the fire, Diane and Mike, along with their four children ” three sons ages 7, 12 and 14, and an 11-year-old daughter ” were put up at the Roadway Inn in New Castle for a week through a voucher provided by the Red Cross.
The family, who has lived in Apple Tree Park for the past seven years, is now seeking other assistance through Catholic Charities in Glenwood Springs.
Diane, who works at Safeway in Glenwood Springs, hopes her family can find housing in either New Castle, Glenwood Springs or Rifle.
Benefits accounts to help the Renteria family have been set up at Alpine Banks and American National Banks throughout the valley.
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