Family displaced after blaze destroys home

ST. GEORGE — A steady stream of neighbors, family and friends visited the Cottam family Sunday morning. Their house, situated at 729 Picturesque Dr., had burned throughout the night.

A St. George firefighter surveys the damage at 729 Picturesque Dr. in St. George, Utah, May 16, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

“We got the call at around 12:45 a.m.,” St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker told St. George News. “The occupants weren’t home, but there were some things in the garage that exploded. That’s what alerted the neighbor who called in the fire.”

One of those neighbors, who asked not to be identified, said that a series of loud pops disturbed his sleep at 2 a.m. At first, he thought the pops came from the fire. But after reflection, he decided the popping came from exploding .22 ammunition cartridges.

He said he usually accompanies the Cottams to church on Sunday mornings. But not today. The family was too busy gathering the precious few things spared by the fire, and preparing to go stay somewhere other than their home.

“They’ve lost most of what they had,” Stoker said. “We salvaged what we could. We put tarps on computers and a piano, and we saved some of the pictures they had hanging on the wall. When everybody’s safe, we try to save those things that can’t be replaced.”

Among the charred remains, there were two rifles in a safe. The heat from the fire had warped the barrels, leaving them drooped toward the ground. Their butts were incinerated. Next to the safe sat a Dutch oven filled with a soupy gray liquid. Wedged between the Dutch oven and the safe rested an American flag. Though it was burned, it was still recognizable.

Homeowner Robert Cottam discusses the fire with St. George Fire Department Captain Coty Chadburn in St. George, Utah, May 16, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Where there was once a garage roof, there was now a gaping hole. About 15 feet from the north side of the house stood three flower pots. The heat from the fire melted the pots, revealing the damp soil within.

Stoker said that the damages were extensive.

“Considering the cost of construction materials and labor,” Stoker said, “I estimate the damages to be around $650,000. That includes structure and contents.”

Captain Coty Chadburn, who also serves the department as a fire inspector and investigator, dug through the charred debris that had fallen where the garage once stood. After visiting the fire overnight, he returned in the morning.

“It’s better to look for clues to what caused the fire when there’s daylight,” Chadburn told St. George News. “I haven’t found anything definitive yet.”

As the remains of the house smoldered in the early morning light, firefighters secured the area. The homeowners visited with people who stopped by to express their concerns and offer a helping hand. A young girl followed her dogs around the yard.

A view of the interior of the home from the backyard in St. George Utah, May 16, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News.

She sauntered from piles of debris to open windows, surveying the damage with her dogs in tow. Then the girl stopped to chat with a woman.

“My house burned down,” the girl said, “What does that even mean?”

Though the cause was still unknown, Stoker offered a thought on what it may mean for the Cottams.

“It’s tough,” he said. “A fire like this is a life-changing event.”


Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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