An unoccupied two-story home in the final stages of construction was leveled by fire early Wednesday in Hunter Creek Ranch, a gated subdivision located east of Christopher Creek and south of Highway 260.
"There's still a little bit of smoldering, but we're doing drive-bys and keeping an eye on it," said Lorraine Mathews, administrative assistant for the Christopher-Kohl's Fire District, Thursday afternoon.
The Christopher-Kohl's Fire District was alerted to the fire at 5:55 a.m. by an observer in the nearby Colcord lookout towers. Seven or eight Christopher-Kohl's firefighters were joined at the scene at about 6:43 by four U.S. Forest Service units and 12 Forest Service employees, plus three firefighters from the Diamond-Star Fire Department, said D-S Fire Chief Gary Hatch.
The firefighters remained at the scene for about five or six hours, Hatch said, adding that Valley residents George and Donna Abraham, owners of the some-3,000-square-foot home, were away when the fire started, but arrived about one hour after the firefighters began working to control the blaze.
When the Christopher-Kohl's crew arrived at the home, "the fire was about three-quarters involved," Hatch said. But by the time the Diamond-Star firefighters reached the site a half-hour later, he said, "We found a house that was fully involved.
"The floors had already gone into the crawl space underneath it, so it had been burning for a long time. We estimate that it had been burning for anywhere between 45 minutes to two hours before anybody noticed it."
Construction of the home was "getting near the finishing stages," Hatch said. "The day before the fire, the owners and their son had been varnishing the home's wood floors ... They left all the windows open so the fumes wouldn't build up, then they left for the night."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Hatch isn't optimistic that a single possibility will ever be pinpointed.
"The problem is that there wasn't much left of the house. I think it will probably be ruled that (the cause of the fire) had something to do with the varnishing but we don't know what the source of the ignition might have been. There was electricity to the outside of the building, but not to the inside, and there was no gas on the inside. So we don't have a pilot light or an electrical source."
The Abrahams and their unidentified son, who could not be contacted by press time, returned to the home at about 7:10 a.m., Hatch said.
"By that time, the house was gone," he said. "There were several exterior walls left and that was it. By the time we left the scene, there were only two end walls still standing and I understand that they finally collapsed into the fire, too."
"It was really heart-wrenching to see their reaction ... They were very upset. This had been their dream home, and they'd been working their tail ends off on it, trying to get it finished."
The firefighters' major concern, Hatch said, was to prevent the blaze from spreading into a wildland fire that would threaten or damage nearby homes. But no other property or forest land was damaged.
The Christopher-Kohl's firefighters "had things pretty well contained by the time we got on the scene," Hatch said, "but they didn't get it under control until probably around 9 a.m., when there was really nothing left to burn."
There were no furnishings in the home, Hatch said, and a pickup truck that had been parked in the driveway was saved from damage by Gila County Sheriff's Office deputies, who pulled it away from the home before the fire reached the garage.