Fire leaves residents homeless
July 31, 2006
Fourth floor of Central Hotel ‘all but destroyed’
Cleanup began Sunday at the El Rancho Tavern, a local
landmark damaged in a Saturday fire that left two
dozen residents of the upper-floor Central Hotel homeless
Durango Fire & Rescue Authority spokesman Dave
Abercrombie said Sunday the bar sustained mainly water
damage. The Central Hotel, which occupied the second,
third and fourth stories, was in a grimmer condition.
While the second story received a good deal of water
damage and some smoke damage, the third floor, where
the fire began, was badly damaged throughout. The
fourth floor is likely a total loss.
"Some of the roof is gone," Abercrombie
explained. "The fourth floor is all but destroyed.
The floor is very iffy and has holes in it. What's
left is very unstable."
Abercrombie said firefighters had used infrared devices
to determine there were no remaining dangerous hotspots.
Little Jay Beaver, 63, known to most in town as Little
Beav, was a resident of the fourth floor and was alerted
to the danger by his fire alarm.
"Everybody else was screaming and yelling,"
Beaver said he started for the stairway but found
the heat too intense and turned around. He then went
for the fire escape but, he said, the emergency door
was locked. The hotel's live-in maintenance man also
was on the fourth floor and was able to unlock the
door with a passkey.
"If he hadn't had the key, we wouldn't have
gotten out," Beaver said. "We would have
The colorful denizen of Durango's downtown, who said
he has lived in the Central Hotel for 15 years, escaped
with his shoes but lost his trademark collection of
Kathy Rowlison, 45, another fourth-floor resident,
was at work when the fire broke out.
"I tried to go into the building," Rowlison
said. "I told the fireman 'I've got to go inside
and save something,' but he said, 'Ma'am, you don't
realize, this building's on fire.'"
Flames were soon shooting out her window.
"There's not a whole lot of things worse you
can experience in life, after burying a child,"
said Rowlison, who previously lost a daughter.
Abercrombie said the fourth floor was clear of residents
by the time firefighters arrived.
Building owner Chip Lile was at the El Rancho on
Sunday but would not comment for this story.
Beaver, who advertises himself as a private detective,
said the hallway was full of the smell of kerosene
when he was making his escape. Abercrombie said the
fire was considered suspicious because of how quickly
the flames grew and spread but said no determination
about the cause of the fire had yet been made. The
Durango fire authority and police are cooperating
in an investigation. Many of those left homeless by
Saturday's fire were forced to face a familiar enemy.
Beaver and Rowlison, like many of the third- and
fourth-floor residents, have been homeless before.
"Our main concern is housing right now,"
said Rowlison, who has worked in grief counseling
and has lived in Durango for six years.
"This is the third time I've had to completely
start over this year," she said. "I don't
know what lesson I'm supposed to be learning right
now, but maybe it's that you've just got to be thankful
The Central Hotel offered some of the few truly affordable
rooms in town - Beaver and Rowlison were paying $310
per month for their fourth-floor walk-ups. In Durango's
exploding real-estate market, similar options are
simply not available.
"They're having to find a solution," said
Julie Oskard, spokeswoman for the Southwest Colorado
American Red Cross. "We're going to do everything
The Red Cross's contribution has so far included
food, clothing, medication, mental-health support
and help with phone calls. Most importantly, it has
housed 13 Central Hotel residents at the Super 8 Motel
at 20 Stewart Street since the fire. That temporary
housing ends Tuesday morning.
Oskard said the 13 included one couple and 11 single
individuals. She said they had all been referred to
social services. Housing options include the Durango
Community Shelter run by the Volunteers of America,
Beaver and Rowlison will have to make their own way
- Beaver said he has no relatives. and Rowlison said
she has lost everyone but one terminally ill relative.
"I try to be real positive," said Rowlison.
"Getting on the pity pot is not going to help
anything. It's time to start all over, pick up the
pieces and go on."