House destroyed in fire — Ice causes flooding along Water Street
MEEKER I In the early morning hours last Thursday, a fire completely destroyed a home approximately 20 miles up river. The occupant escaped but two of her dogs did not. Less than 12 hours later ice build up caused the White River to start flooding Water Street. Before the water was pumped out, it filled crawl spaces and even entered homes located on the south side of the street.
“I woke up around 2:30 a.m., smelled smoke and my throat was burning,” Jeri Gilchrist said, describing how she was awakened early last Thursday.
Gilchrist was renting a home, known by locals as the “Chamber house,” on Rio Blanco County Road 54, from Rich and Ellen Dawes, former owners of the Sleepy Cat Guest Ranch.
Gilchrist said her four-and-a-half month old border collie jumped off the bed and joined her three-year-old Australian Shepherd under the bed. The Australian Shepherd just birthed a litter of three puppies eight weeks earlier. Gilchrist said she turned on a light and white smoke had filled the room to the top of her bed. She then went out to the kitchen where black smoke was up to her knees but she did not see any flames.
“The venetian blinds were melting, then a kitchen window broke and that’s when I went into panic mode,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist said she ran back into her bedroom, gasping for air, grabbed the kennel with the three puppies and started calling the others.
“They didn’t follow me out,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist, who owns and operates an outfitting business and works at Samuelson’s True Value Hardware, had left her phone at work, so she could not call 911.
She ran to her truck, barefoot and dressed in only a night shirt, the temperature at minus 12 degrees and sped up to her neighbors’ Chad and Shawn Luce, honking the horn.
“I looked down at my house and saw an orange glow,” Gilchrist said. “Chad got me some pants and boots and Shawn called 911. Chad and I drove down to my house, flames were coming out of the windows and I looked for the shutoff valve to the 1,000 gallon propane tank but could not find it. Then I broke a window to try and get my dogs out but thick black smoke was coming out and I realized I couldn’t get my dogs out.”
Gilchrist said they drove to RBC Road 8 to wait for help. A sheriff’s deputy showed up, then an ambulance and fire trucks. The deputy went to get Luce’s wife and three daughters to bring them to safety.
“It was going pretty good when we got the call,” Meeker fire chief Steve Allen said. “We turned off the gas and the WREA cut the power. All we could do was save the other buildings (a garage and cabin). It is undetermined what started it or where it started.”
“It’s overwhelming how generous people have been with me,” Gilchrist said after people found out what happened. An account has been established at FNBR.
Several locals helped the folks on Water Street later that same day, when water started flooding the parking lot of the BLM/USFS building and rose up to two feet high on First and Water streets.
“DJ Ridgeway, Matt and Brandan Jensen brought pumps and hoses and we started pumping the water into the town ditch (Sulphur Creek),” Alan Pontine, owner of one of the Water Street homes said. “We figured we were pumping 5,040 gallons a minute.”
According to Pontine, 15-20 people were helping.
“We called town hall but they said there was nothing they could do, we were on our own,” Pontine said.
Pontine said they filled the ditch with water before it broke a channel into the river and they worked until 2 a.m., Friday morning before getting all the water out of the street and their houses.
Pontine said he has lived on Water Street since 1999 and has never seen it flood as bad as it did last week.