A La Plata County man escaped a house fire with non-life threatening injuries early Monday, said Upper Pine River Fire Protection District Chief Bruce Evans.
A bystander reported the structure fire about 3 a.m. on County Road 223, between Durango and Bayfield. By the time emergency responders arrived, Evans said the house, about 13 miles east of Durango off U.S. Highway 160, was 50 percent engulfed in flames.
According to Evans, two people inside the house were awakened by a smoke detector. A man downstairs escaped without injuries, Evans said. The injured man was later identified as 29-year-old A.J. Genge.
Evans said the two men were renting the location from a property owner that lives in Maryland. The house was completely destroyed in the fire, he said.
Firefighters finished securing the scene around 7 a.m. Monday with help from Durango Fire Protection District and Los Pinos Fire Protection District. About 20 firefighters responded to the scene.
Crews were able to prevent the fire from spreading to the nearby forest and neighborhood, Evans said.
“It was very challenging with the water supply issue,” he said. “There were no nearby hydrants, and the house was not well mitigated ... but our crews did a nice job.”
The cause of the fire was ruled as “careless use of smoking material,” Evans said. An investigation concluded Genge had failed to properly put out a cigarette he was smoking on the back porch around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
The burning embers, known as the “cherry” of the cigarette, fell under the back deck and into an area of cut wood, sawdust and other kindling debris, Evans said.
There, it smoldered for nearly four hours until a gust of wind likely sparked a full-on fire, Evans said.
“We’ve had two or three similar fires where people were smoking outside and tossed a cigarette to the ground without making sure it was out,” Evans said. “If people are going to smoke ... make sure to properly put it out so you don’t wind up with a situation like that.”
The incident is also a prime example of why it is important to make sure fire detectors are in working order, Evans said. The house had two fire detectors, one of which did not work, he said.
“It’s just another reminder that you need to check your smoke detectors,” Evans said. “Had that smoke detector not gone off, the guy upstairs would have certainly been a fatality.”
Evans said the injured man was taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit.
A GoFundMe page listed A.J. Genge as the man injured in the fire. His mother, Marti, said her 29-year-old son had just changed the battery to the smoke alarm a week ago.
She said her son initially escaped the house, but re-entered two times: once to retrieve his dog, Caddie, and a second time to get his phone. On the second re-entry, Genge sustained burns and smoke inhalation, she said.
Marti Genge said her son remained at Mercy as of Monday, but will “be fine.” She said he lost all his belongings in the fire, prompting the need for the GoFundMe campaign.
“I’m just so very thankful,” Marti Genge said. “Somebody was watching over him.”
She said the family moved to Durango two years ago from Arkansas, and A.J. Genge now works in information technology for Open Sky Wilderness Therapy.
The GoFundMe page can be reached here: https://www.gofundme.com/lets-support-aj