House fire under investigation


Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.     Around 1 p.m. last Thursday, July 17, Mike Patrick Bruce and John German were in front of the hostel on Boulder Street when they noticed smoke coming out of the house next to the Alpaca Store and More. Bruce is a concrete contractor and had been working at the hostel. Painter Scott Smith said that the two men popped into action and soon a bunch of people were working together to put out the fire.

Bruce says that in a fight or flight decision, he is always the one that heads toward the action, not away from it. He ran around the house looking for where the smoke was coming from, when a back bedroom window blew out and flames spewed toward the house next door. He had just registered what was happening when he heard a series of small explosions and realized that ammunition was detonating from the room and going off all around him.

“It was loud, like boom, boom….got the hose and pulled it to the window. Some people were yelling, telling other people what to do. John ran to the house and found the hose and handed it to me and I just put the hose in the window to put the fire out.”

Scott Smith said he was amazed at how everyone began working together. “One person got the cars out of the driveway and someone yelled at me to shut off the gas, so I grabbed a wrench and shut it off.”


When Bruce first approached the house, a man was on his way out, saying nobody else was inside and that there was ammunition, lots of it. The Nederland Fire Protection District firefighters arrived within four minutes and took over. Although the flames in the bedroom had been extinguished, the fire had worked its way into the ceiling and attic. Armed with fire axes and Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, the firefighters accessed the roof and began opening vent holes.

The structure soon filled with dark, thick smoke and it was evident that some pretty toxic chemicals were burning. It was determined later that there were 96 cans of butane fuel in the bedroom.

By this time Timberline Fire Protection District, Sugar Loaf Fire Protection District, the Nederland Marshal’s officers and the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office deputies showed up to assist with the structure fire. It soon became apparent that some illegal activity had been taking place in the house and the area was blocked off as a crime scene. The Multi-Agency Fire Investigation Task Force was called in to find out exactly how the fire started.

The owner of the building, Ron Mitchell, showed up in time to hear about the people who jumped in to save the house without regard to their own personal safety. Mitchell says he thinks the house is about 60 percent destroyed, but was grateful to the two men who put out the initial flames. Before Mitchell left, he shook their hands and gave them a significant monetary reward which led to a couple of huge smiles.

He was also thankful that nobody was hurt. He says the renter who started the fire had only there for about a week;  that someone else had paid at the beginning of the month. “Except for the one bedroom, there was mostly smoke damage. One of the renters lost a bunch of nice clothes and the others lost their place to live. I am just happy that everyone got out safely.”

John German, who hurried the hose to Bruce said, “I am just glad we could help and everyone is okay. I wish I had seen myself running that fast to get the hose.”

As of Tuesday the case is still under investigation.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.