Charles Hurtt and his wife, Frances Burkleo, affectionately known as “Pops” and “Grandma Gigi,” were known for taking in people who needed help and sharing what they had with those around them. Their friends and family members stand outside the home Wednesday in east Craig where the couple perished in a fire Christmas Day. Pictured, from left, are son-in-law Bill Boston and his wife, Jennifer; family friends Nicholas Bustamante and Dean David, and Hurtt’s daughter, Jeannetta Baird, far right, and her husband, William.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Charles Hurtt and his wife, Frances Burkleo, affectionately known as “Pops” and “Grandma Gigi,” were known for taking in people who needed help and sharing what they had with those around them. Their friends and family members stand outside the home Wednesday in east Craig where the couple perished in a fire Christmas Day. Pictured, from left, are son-in-law Bill Boston and his wife, Jennifer; family friends Nicholas Bustamante and Dean David, and Hurtt’s daughter, Jeannetta Baird, far right, and her husband, William.

Craig couple who perished in Christmas Day fire fondly remembered

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The trailer where Charles Hurtt and his wife, Frances Burkleo, once lived was deemed a complete loss after a fire consumed it on Christmas morning. Hurtt and Burkleo died in the fire. A private wake to commemorate Hurtt’s life is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at the home of his daughter, Jeannetta Baird, 430 E. Fourth St., No. 25, in Craig. Family and close friends are welcome to attend.

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Courtesy Photo

Charles Hurtt is shown in this memorial photo provided by his family. Hurtt was known as “Pops” by family and friends, and his wife, Frances Burkleo, went by the nickname “Grandma Gigi.”

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Courtesy Photo

Charles Hurtt, left, and Frances Burkleo, pictured here in their wedding photo provided by Hurtt’s family, were married for more than 16 years. March 9 would have been their 17th wedding anniversary.

— Charles Hurtt had a way of coaxing a smile out of other people.

You just couldn’t help it, his daughters Jeannetta Baird and Jennifer Boston said. His untiring sense of humor could defuse a conflict, soothe an aching heart, or just make another person laugh.

“He liked to make people smile and feel good,” said Baird, 31.

“You couldn’t be mad for more than two minutes around my daddy.”

She and Boston, 32, their husbands, and Dean David, a family friend, were swapping stories on a cold Wednesday morning about Hurtt, 54, and his wife, Frances Burkleo, 63, who most everyone knew as “Pops” and “Grandma Gigi.”

Remember how she loved to get her nails and hair fixed?

Remember the way he used to playfully flirt with the ladies?

Remember how she loved to dance?

They remember because memories are all that remain today. The house Pops and Grandma Gigi used to live in is now a charred shell.

Yet here in Baird’s house, just across the street from where the couple used to live, the friend, in-laws and daughters wait. They almost expect Hurtt to walk through that door, looking for a smoke or a cup of coffee, that infectious smile still on his face.

“This is just not happening,” Boston said, recalling her thoughts when she learned Hurtt and Burkleo perished in the fire that destroyed their house on Christmas Day.

The ties to this jarring reality are still tenuous and the shock is still fresh.

“It still feels like we’re in the twilight zone,” she said.

‘Tell me somebody got them out’

The fire’s devastation left only clues as to what happened that Christmas morning at Hurtt and Burkleo’s home in the 600 block of East Fourth Street.

A Craig/Fire Rescue investigation concluded the blaze probably started on the trailer’s enclosed porch and was likely caused by “the installation, construction or proximity of combustibles to a wood-burning stove” located on the porch, Battalion Chief K.C. Hume said previously.

However, Hurtt was careful to keep combustible materials away from the stove, Baird said.

This is what is known: A few minutes shy of 8 a.m., Baird was making preparations for Christmas dinner—“Momma wanted to make chicken Maylay for Christmas,” she said — when she looked out her window and noticed a small wisp of white smoke coming from the wood stove.

“And I figured, oh well, dad must be up checking the animals, letting them out,’” she said.

She considered calling them but thought better of it.

“I figured, let him have a cup of coffee on Christmas morning,” she said.

About half an hour later, a squad car rushed past the house, sirens wailing.

Then, a call from a neighbor upended the holiday morning.

Hurtt and Burkleo’s trailer was on fire.

“I stood there and watched it while I waited for them to find out if my dad and them were in there,” Baird said quietly.

She called David, who rushed to the scene.

“And by the time I got over there, I could not believe it,” said David, a Craig resident. “The only thing that was going through my mind was, ‘Tell me somebody got them out.’”

His worst fear was later sealed into chilling realization.

Hurtt and Burkleo had been inside the trailer, and they didn’t make it out.

The Moffat County Coroner’s Office concluded Burkleo died of smoke inhalation, while Hurtt died from smoke and soot inhalation, coroner Kirk McKey said Wednesday.

David’s eyes turned glossy with tears as he remembered watching the house succumb to the devouring flames.

“I just did not want to believe,” he said.

What remains, endures

The later years of the couple’s life together weren’t always kind.

They moved to Craig from Sacramento, Calif., in 2008.

Hurtt worked odd jobs to make ends meet and constantly sought steady employment. Burkleo suffered from a litany of ailments, as did Hurtt, who battled a degenerative bone disease and arthritis, among other things.

“His full-time job was taking care of momma,” Boston said.

But to know who they were, you need to look past the mere list of dates, locations, occupations and even hardships.

Burkleo was a crafter who made key chains and rugs, and wasn’t shy about speaking her mind.

“She definitely liked to share her opinion — made it well known,” Baird said.

Burkleo loved word puzzle books — “Oh, she loved to cheat on those things,” Boston said — and she was crazy about Tinkerbell, a Disney character.

Hurtt played acoustic guitar and the banjo, Baird said, and he was an avid collector of anything John Wayne.

Yet Hurtt and Burkleo left behind a much richer history written in the lives of those they reared and sheltered.

They’re survived by 12 children from previous marriages and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Their family extends beyond the bonds of blood and includes people on crooked or difficult paths who turned to Hurtt for help.

“Charles was like a stepfather to me,” said Sean Cullinan, 20, who lives two houses away from the remains of Hurtt and Burkleo’s home.

“(He) took me in when nobody else would,” Cullinan said. “He didn’t have much, but what he did have — he would take the shirt off his back and give it to me if I needed it.”

A private wake to commemorate Hurtt’s life is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at Baird’s home, 430 E. Fourth St., No. 25. Family and close friends are welcome to attend.

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Comments

Colette Erickson 2 years, 3 months ago

Very sad. This couple was just trying to create a home.

This trailer - with its non-code-compliant plywood addition, including stove pipe protruding through the roof - was easy to see from Hwy. 40. Could not the local building or fire officials have noticed this situation, and investigated, prior to this tragedy?

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cory5611 2 years, 3 months ago

Very sad event this was just down the street from were we live there was one across the street from this one that brunt down last year it seems to me the city dont care if these places are up to code but they will screw business that what to build here and come on Craig Daily Press you claim to be a Newspaper having this article 4 days after it happened is not news its just a fill in for space it should have been in mondays paper

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Jessica Horne 2 years, 3 months ago

This whole situation is extremely disturbing, 2 people died on a holiday that is supposed to bring family together and be happy times. Yes, the city, the trailer park owner, someone should have checked the safety of the structure and questioned it...but they didn't. The paper didn't report it in a timely manner, but my understanding is the FD and PD didn't report it in a timely manner either. I think everyone heard about it word of mouth before the paper heard about it. At the end of the day it's just a very sad thing to have happen....

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JessicaJr 2 years, 3 months ago

I have known Frances for 20+ years and Charles Hurtt since their marriage in Sacramento. They were a wonderful couple. Frances was my very special friend and I will miss her very much. I wish to convy my condolences to Charles's family in Craig and to Frances's family in Sacramento, California. I am still in disbelief over this tragedy and hope both families can remain strong and in God's care. You have my deepest sympathy. Jessica Romero~

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Colette Erickson 2 years, 3 months ago

Would it be possible for someone on the staff of the paper to do some "investigative journalism" and ask the building official why no one - who's job it is to notice such things - noticed this situation (the non-code-compliant structure w/ a stove pipe sticking up out of it)? In most jurisdictions, the building officials go out looking for violations. Not here, I guess?

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cag81625 2 years, 2 months ago

Does anyone know if this site is still under some sort of investigation? Will the city require this sad scene to be removed at some point? I sure hope that residents and visitors alike will no longer have to stare into the maw of this tragedy as they pass through town. Or will it just sit, like the motel?

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