Investigator: fire’s cause remains undetermined
"But, the real story belongs to the Craig Police Department. What those three officers did tonight was nothing short of heroic and they did great.”
— Bill Johnston, Craig Fire/Rescue Chief, on Sgt. Corey Wagner and officers Lance Eldridge and Mike Edwards, of the Craig Police Department
Preliminary reports suggest Tuesday night’s fire in Craig that claimed Craig resident Ursula Hunter was accidental.
However, officials said a definitive cause has not been determined.
John Forgay, a sergeant with the Craig Police Department, is investigating the fire at 1912 Woodland Ave.
He said Wednesday the fire department views the fire as accidental.
But, he said there are some concerning issues, and he and fire officials have theories on what sparked the blaze.
“The adults were on supplemental oxygen and also smoked,” Forgay said.
He said a neighbor reported hearing “pops” shortly after the fire began.
“There was a lot of supplemental oxygen in the home, but we couldn’t find any indication that anything had blown up,” Forgay said. “It’s not uncommon in house fires for things to explode like coke cans or household cleaning solvents. So, we don’t see (oxygen) as the cause.”
Instead, Forgay said police and fire officials are focused on the southeast bedroom as the origin of the blaze.
“We are more concerned with a small heater in the bedroom that had most of the damage,” Forgay said. “We and the fire department are looking at where the most intense heat from the fire was and it would be more relevant that the fire started there.”
Investigators said early information from the probe indicates the victim did not usually use a space heater, but was not feeling well and brought it into the bedroom for warmth.
The family also said the bedroom contained long curtains that would have almost touched the floor.
“There was nothing left of those except a curtain rod,” Forgay said. “It’s a strong possibility and we feel fairly secure that is the most logical place for the fire’s origin.”
Dennis Jones, Craig Fire/Rescue battalion chief, said Wednesday the fire department’s theories mesh with Forgay’s, but the extent of damage make it close to impossible to confirm the cause.
Jones said the fire department is no longer investigating the fire.
“We’re yielding to the insurance company and the police department from here,” Jones said. “Unless something comes up requiring further investigation on our end.”
Ursula’s companion, Patrick Hunter, who also lived at the home, was pulled from the fire by Sgt. Corey Wagner, Lance Eldridge and Mike Edwards, of the police department.
Patrick was transported to The Memorial Hospital in Craig for treatment.
TMH spokeswoman Jennifer Riley said Patrick has been transferred to another hospital. She could not elaborate further on his condition.
‘They were good people’
In the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s Moffat County High School boys varsity basketball game, Steve Hafey and his wife Fay threw on their coats and rushed from the high school gym.
They had gotten word a home near theirs on Woodland Avenue was on fire, Steve said.
When they arrived, they found a blaze consuming the home of the Hunters, who lived two houses down.
Once the Hafeys saw their home wasn’t in danger, their thoughts went to their neighbors.
“Immediately, we were worried about (the Hunters,)” said Steve, 70.
The size of the flames leaping from the rear of the house didn’t give the Hafeys much cause for hope.
“The south-sloping roof was engulfed in flames,” Steve said. “And they were shooting, I would say, 20 feet high off the roof.”
Craig Police Department Sgt. Corey Wagner, and officers Lance Eldridge and Mike Edwards were first on the scene and were able to pull Patrick from the home.
Ursula, however, could not be saved. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Moffat County Coroner Kirk McKey said he did not know the cause or time of death as of late Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re still investigating that part,” he said.
The Hafeys said the Hunters were avid gardeners who shared their harvest with the neighborhood.
It wasn’t uncommon for Patrick to bring the Hafeys tomatoes they had grown or to give a friendly greeting in passing, said Fay, 69.
The Hunters were a “very unobtrusive” couple, Steve said.
“They were good people,” he said.
Mary Quinn, who lives next door to the Hunters, said the same.
Ursula “was always really friendly,” said Quinn, 33.
“She was very, very generous,” and was “always offering whatever she could, mostly vegetables out of her garden.”
The Hunters, who were retired, were both on oxygen, Quinn said, and didn’t leave their home often.
Quinn and her husband, Danny, did what they could to help the Hunters, she said, and the Hunters responded in kind.
“(They) watched out for us as we tried to watch out for them,” she said.
On Tuesday night, Quinn stepped outside her home and saw smoke and flames billowing from the Hunter’s home. An ambulance crew was preparing to take Patrick to the hospital, but it was unknown whether Ursula had made it to safety.
After the Quinns rushed their three daughters to a neighbor’s house across the street and did what they could to protect their property, they waited to hear news if Ursula had escaped the flames.
The good news they were hoping for never came.
“We were really sad last night,” Quinn said, “and (are) still sad.”