Just over a year after a fire killed one man, left 20 people displaced and destroyed the Tercero Townhouse, owner Caroní Adams is ready to rent again.
She’s rebuilt a complex originally developed in 1978 by her father and mother, Wallace and Billie Adams.
The prime lesson Adams learned in rebuilding, she said, is to make sure you are adequately insured, and the decision on an insurance policy should not be guided solely by premium costs.
“Don’t choose the cheapest. Building costs in Durango are considerably higher than they are in Denver,” Adams said before a tour of the seven, three-bedroom, two-bathroom units she will rent for $1,600 a month, including water and sewage.
“Insurance is slow, and you have to fight for every penny. If you had Formica, you’re going to get Formica,” she said.
Adams’ advice is for residents to determine how much their property or homeowners insurance covers for rebuilding costs to ensure it meets Durango’s cost structure.
“See how much you’re covered for and increase it,” she said. “It will add only a little to the policy, and if you ever have a fire, it will pay off.”
The exact cause of the June 14, 2017, blaze in the 2100 block of West Third Avenue remains undetermined.
Kevin Abeyta, 24, was killed in the fire. He had rushed into a neighboring apartment to rescue Grisela Picasso of Durango and her two boys, Ira and Rivers, who were then 5 and 10, respectively.
Firefighters credited Abeyta for saving the life of a mother and two children at the cost of his own.
“We feel for the family of the gentleman who lost his life,” Adams said.
Sally Shuffield, who lives on the same block as the complex, remembers the night of the fire as “surreal,” coming in the early morning hours as she and her family were preparing to leave on a yearlong trip to Spain.
“The whole neighborhood poured out into the streets. We were all kind of in shock,” she said. “We hadn’t heard a man had been killed. We were offering our houses to people. I remember there was a couple with a baby.”
Shuffield, who wrote about her time in Spain in her column “An American in Spain” in The Durango Herald, said the rebuild is nice, and she and her 9-year-old daughter are looking forward to more families with children moving into the neighborhood.
The Tercero rebuild, she said, helps her because it was difficult to look at the blackened, gutted remains of the old structure without revisiting the night of the fire in her mind.
Since she came back from Spain, Shuffield said not only has the Tercero Townhouse been rebuilt, but several other houses in the area have been remodeled and the neighborhood is looking updated.
Beyond having insurance that adequately covers Durango’s building costs, Adams said policyholders should ensure that they are covered for lost income.
In Adams’ case, she said it was six months before she could begin to rebuild the apartments because of a hold placed on the property by fire and law officials to complete a fire investigation.
“It was necessary, and it needed to happen,” Adams said of the six-month pause in rebuilding to investigate. “But it did delay things.”
She said a lost income provision in an insurance policy will cover an owner for the time the property is dormant and not producing income.
In a situation such as the Tercero fire, Karola Hanks, fire marshal for the Durango Fire Protection District, said it is not unusual for a property to be held off limits for rebuilding for an extended time because multiple insurance companies are investigating and processing data from the scene.
“When you have multiple entities, multiple companies involved, each one has the right to investigate and the right to see what everyone else has seen at the site,” she said. “It can be a long, drawn out process before all the investigators do what they need to in order to process the data.”
Fire investigators had to examine a web of potential issues such as wrongful death, which was not found in this case. In addition, investigations are more complex when a death and injuries are involved, she said.
“Property owners should be aware of a delay in a case like this. I’m not surprised this took six months,” she said.
No citations were issued because of structural deficiencies or code violations in the building, Hanks said.
“Some firefighters heard smoke detectors going off, some did not. We heard mixed and inconsistent reports. The damage was so severe we could not determine if all the smoke detectors were working or not,” Hanks said.
Siding used on the building, built in 1978, would not have met code when the 2017 fire occurred, Hanks said. But property owners don’t have to upgrade their buildings to meet new fire codes after they are built unless a retrofit is specifically required in a new code.
Codes are changed every three years, and essentially, it would be cost-prohibitive to force property owners to retrofit their properties with every code update, she said.
The Durango Fire Protection District determined the fire started in the early morning hours on an outside deck in a unit occupied by Abeyta and his husband, Tonny Del Solar.
Hanks said there are several scenarios as to how the fire may have started, such as someone dropping a lit cigarette outside, but none can be proved. The ignition point of the fire can be determined, but not the exact cause of the fire, she said.
The fire investigation will remain open for several more months as final efforts are made to identify the exact cause of the blaze, Hanks said.
Property owners should ensure a rider providing adequate coverage to pay for upgrades in building codes required by law is in their policies, Adams said.
At the time of the fire, the Tercero Townhouse did not have sprinklers, which were not in the building code in 1978. In the rebuild, a sprinkler system was required to meet 2018 code, a $60,000 expense, Adams said.
Adams used Sachs Construction of Durango, and she said they were able to deal directly with State Farm on most insurance issues, which she was thankful for. She also said Alpine Bank was cooperative in providing a loan for rebuilding costs not covered by insurance.
The final amount of the loan is not yet set, but she said it will range somewhere between $600,000 and $700,000.
Adams said she had almost finished paying off a loan for the original construction of the apartments in 1978 when the fire occurred, but now, she’s back to paying a full loan.
“It was unfortunate, but I also have a new building from the studs up,” she said. “We have new plumbing, new wiring. The units are bigger and we have a new sprinkler system. This will never happen again. I’m just glad it’s done.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgAn earlier version of this story gave an incorrect block number for the Tercero Townhouse.