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Terrible fire blamed on cigarette

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Investigators have determined an improperly discarded a cigarette ignited one of the worst fires in Park City in more than a decade, a scenario that seemed plausible shortly afterward but was not confirmed until recently.

Ron Ivie, City Hall’s chief building official and the city’s fire marshal, said someone threw the cigarette into a plant container at the house at 711 Norfolk Ave. It had not been planted, and Ivie called it "kind of a dry pot."

The container caught fire and spread to a deck. The wooden planks of the deck ignited and collapsed, Ivie said, falling onto a five-gallon gasoline can. The gasoline caught fire, worsening the situation. Ivie said a foam mattress also caught fire.

The June 27 fire destroyed one house and damaged four others. The historic Angel House, which remains standing, suffered the worst damage of the four. Ivie said it suffered about $1 million damage. The roof of the Angel House collapsed in the fire.

He estimates the destroyed house, 711 Norfolk Ave., was valued at about $400,000.

Three neighboring houses suffered "fairly minor" damage, Ivie said. The flames blistered the paint on the back wall of one of them, they melted window insulation and blistered paint on another and the third suffered interior water damage from the firefighting hoses.

Ivie estimates total damage at about $1.5 million.

"In that circumstance, they’re pretty dangerous," he said. "Cigarettes need to be disposed of properly."

Ivie said the fire was accidental. He is not pursuing charges against the people inside the house when the fire started.

The investigators found a hot plate and a lighter near the spot where the fire is believed to have started, but Ivie said they did not play a role in the blaze.

Tom Peek, who owned the destroyed house and was renting the property, said it is a "little disappointing" that the fire is blamed on a cigarette.

"It just seems a little irresponsible," Peek said.

He said the fire was an accident. The house, which he described as a "classic" building, was insured. He does not plan a lawsuit against the tenants at the time.

The destroyed house has since been razed. Peek said he is considering options for rebuilding. He owns the property next door as well. He purchased the destroyed house in mid-2007.

Peek said it is likely he will build a new house on the land, but he is unsure when.

"We’ll do something eventually," Peek said.

Nobody was injured in the fire, but three men renting the destroyed house rushed outside to escape the blaze.

Smoke from the early morning fire could be seen for miles, with drivers on the S.R. 248 entryway reporting they saw the smoke billowing up from Old Town.

Firefighters doused the blaze by midmorning, but they spent much of the day at the scene as the destroyed house continued to smolder.


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