The fire burned late Tuesday night and into early Wednesday morning, while firefighters remained on the razed-to-the-ground site Wednesday afternoon, dousing hot spots with water.
“It’s too early to even speculate,” said TFPD Fire Marshal Jim Boeckel from the scene on Wednesday morning. There the charred remains of the wood and red, corrugated metal-clad eatery billowed clouds of grey smoke and white steam into the cold morning air.
Boeckel said an investigation into the cause of the general-alarm fire that drew more than 40 volunteer firefighters working two ladder trucks and four engines from the district’s four stations in Telluride, Mountain Village, Placerville and San Bernardo, would not begin until personnel could safely get inside to begin digging through the remains.
“…[W]hich isn’t going to happen today,” he said. “It’s too hot, too unsafe.
“Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to start going through,” he continued.
Baked in Telluride, Telluride’s oldest restaurant, first opened its doors in 1976. In the 34 years since then the bakery has served countless affordable meals to locals and visitors alike. One of the town’s largest employers, it has also supplied a variety of bagels and breads from challah to sprouted wheat to retail outlets in the region.
“I just wrote 25 paychecks, including my own,” said owner Jerry Greene, acknowledging the sizeable employment gap the fire has left behind.
“I’m most concerned about my employees who are suddenly out of work.”
The TFPD received a call around 10:10 p.m. Tuesday from BIT employees who were cleaning the restaurant after it had closed. They reported smoke entering the back bakery area through the floor above a crawl space, Boeckel said.
The first person on the scene was an officer from the Telluride Marshal’s Department who made sure the three employees, who had already evacuated, were safe and accounted for, said Boeckel.
“When we got here it was pretty much full of smoke throughout,” he added.
“Our biggest problem was there was nowhere to access that crawl space,” he continued, noting that firefighters made three attempts to cut holes through the floor to reach the fire.
“By the second attempt, we had to evacuate the bakery area, because the floors were already getting spongy,” he said.
Firefighters made a third attempt to break through to the crawl space by entering the building through the front door, but by then there was just too much smoke.
“Our chainsaw wouldn’t run because it couldn’t get enough oxygen just because of all the smoke that was in there,” Boeckel said.
The fire was particularly elusive, in part, speculated Telluride Fire Station Chief Jamey Schuler, because the building may have once served as a livery where the floor had to be reinforced in order to support the weight of the horses.
“It was a nightmare as far as the floor system,” he said.
“We all knew it was going on, but we could never find the flames,” he continued.
“We’d cut holes in the floor and think as soon as we cut a hole in the floor that we’d be able to stick our head in there and see there’s where the seed of the fire is, add a little bit of water and take the temperature away and we’d alleviate the problem,” he explained.
“That never happened; we never found the flames.”
Despite flowing water under the building, the billows of smoke just kept growing larger and larger.
While every once in awhile the responders would see flames pop out of the side of the building on the Village market side below snow level, “Not until the roof finally went up in flames did we really know where the fire was at,” Schuler said.
After spending an hour or so trying to get through the floor, commanders made a tactical decision to pull everyone out and switched to a defensive strategy in order to protect the surrounding structures.
“It got to the point where we were not going to risk people going into the building,” said Schuler, adding that the volume of swirling, turbulent smoke had grown so large, and the off-gassing so great, that at a certain point it could ignite.
“There was probably a mushroom cloud above Telluride, you just couldn’t see it in the dark,” he said.
In the meantime, the firefighters let the fire burn through the floor of the bakery, “…[A]nd then we had something we could physically work with,” Boeckel said, estimating that the floor finally collapsed around 1:30 or 2 a.m.
The snow and icicles that glittered from the roof of the Village Market some four feet from the smoldering bakery and those that hanging from building roofline across the alley were a testament to the wisdom of the strategy.
“The only building that got damaged was the building that was on fire when we got here,” said Boeckel, praising the firefighters' work.
“When the fire in the building of origin finally broke through the roof, we had enough control means in place to protect the exposures that they did not take enough heat to melt the icicles off on the other side of the alley,” he continued.
One of those means of control, said Schuler, was a ladder truck that sprayed a steady stream of water on the roof to keep it cold.
As for the bakery, “The attic space, the entire roof’s gone at this point,” said Boeckel, who described the back wall of the building as having collapsed outwards while everything else collapsed inwards.
“This front façade, the porch roof, is very unstable at this point. That’s why we’re not really allowing anybody to go up there, even our own personnel; if they do, there’s two, one to do what needs to be done and the other one to keep a look overhead just for safety,” he said.
“It’s a total loss.”
The last major fire in Telluride’s commercial district was a spectacular blaze that destroyed the historic Telluride Pharmacy building in the fall of 1990. The building was subsequently rebuilt on the corner of Colorado Ave. and Fir St.; its ground floor is currently vacant.
Unlike that fire, which came critically close to draining the town’s entire water storage supply of two million gallons, Schuler said that the Baked In Telluride fire did not pose the same risk.
“We never got close to running out” of water, he said.
Greene, who spent much of the night at the scene, said on Wednesday afternoon that he is trying to recover as much of his data as possible in order to get his business running again.
“I’m encouraged that we’ll be able to move forward fairly quickly,” he said.
POSTED 2/10 1:30 a.m.
A Telluride Icon Is Destroyed in a Fire That Started Late Tuesday Night.
by Carlos Cagin
Smoke began pouring from the metal frame of Baked In Telluride Tuesday night.
Early reports are that the fire began on the floor of the iconic bakery on 127 South Fir, though the cause is still undetermined.
Baked in Telluride, which opened its doors in 1976, was the oldest restaurant and among the oldest businesses in Telluride.
As of 1:45 Wednesday morning, firefighters were still working to control the fire, and had set up a perimeter around the entire block.
The Watch will continue to post updates as more information becomes available.
Photos by Jesse Hope
Videos by Carlos Cagin