By Jon Lovekin
(Editor's note: One of the pleasures in publishing Telluride Inside… and Out is getting to know new [to us] writers. Susan and I independently ran across Jon Lovekin on Twitter. She took the next step, checked out his writing, liked what she saw and asked if he would be interested in contributing to TIO. Herewith, another article from Jon.)
It was January in Boulder, Colorado and approaching 20 below zero. We lived in an old barn converted into a house sometime in the '30s or '40s. It was on a large plot of land two blocks in from Canyon Boulevard not far from the east end of the then new Boulder Mall. My roommates were in the trades and we had a lively bunch at the house each morning around 7 am discussing the coming day's work and drinking coffee. I was rarely at my best at that hour as I was merely a student at the University and typically got home well after midnight from my geology study group.
The house was cold. It had no real heat other than a wood burning stove in the middle of the main room. There was a backup gas heater in the same room but as that cost money, we had set it to only come on when the temperature in the house dropped below freezing. I slept in a down sleeping bag covered with wool blankets and wore a beanie and a full set of clothes when going to bed at night. The big battle of the house was to see who would get up first and start the fire. Whoever did this chore was rewarded with the only hot shower of the morning as after that it would be hours before the water in the heater was hot again. I rarely took a morning shower in those days.
While all of this may seem a bit glum, our rent was as cheap as the accommodations. We got to live in downtown Boulder and the three of us split the $150 dollar a month rent. The best part of living there was the summers when the old building somehow remained cool. We also had a deep porch, a large garden and close proximity to all that was going on locally.
The painting crew consisted of three and sometimes four guys. There were also two of us living in the house with the owner of the painting company. One of the painters had a cat named Chelsea. She was a mixed breed but definitely had a Siamese additude. Fred couldn't keep Chelsea at the apartment he was living in so we kept her at our house for the time being. She was great, keeping the abundant mice in check and basically fitting right in with our way of life. She was a tough cat and didn't like too much affection but rather just hung out like one of the guys.
On this particular brutally cold morning, Russ got up first to claim the hot shower. He started a fire and paid particular attention to making a robust one. He went back to bed at first to get the house warmed past the point of being able to see one's breath. I dozed back off after hearing his efforts at the stove. Suddenly I was startled awake as Russ yelled, "Jon, I think we have a problem!"
I heard him go out the front door. A few moments later he came back in and opened my bedroom door and yelled at me again, this time that I should get up immediately. I jumped out of bed and saw Chelsea the cat running about the room, stopping suddenly, looking up at the ceiling and then running about the room again.
Russ told me that Chelsea had been doing this for some time and he finally went outside to look at the house and that I had better come with him to do the same. We rushed out together and looked up at the smoke pouring out of both ends of the eves.
"What do you think we should do?" Russ asked. "Should we call the fire department?"
"Yes, let's call them!" was my immediate response.
The fire department got there in what seemed like just an instant. At this point it was 6 am and they were close and did not have much else to do apparently.
After a hurried but thorough evaluation of the situation three fire people (one was a women) were up on the roof with a chain-saw with a hugh circular blade attached. They counted to three and cut a three foot diameter hole in the roof into which a hose of water was instantly directed. Amazingly they had the fire out in under 15 minutes.
Russ had a number of suits in the upstairs bedroom that he threw out the upstairs door in the few minutes prior to the arrival of the fire department. The clothes were partly on the neighbor's fence and along the sidewalk in front of the house. I suddenly realized while gazing at this mess that I didn't have shoes on nor anything but gym pants and a t-shirt. I was freezing! At just this moment a pedestrian walked up. There was a fire truck in the middle of the street with lights blazing. There were several hoses stretched across the sidewalk and fire fighters coming and going. I was standing on the sidewalk basically in my underwear. This lady looked at all the clothes strewn about and came up to me and asked,
"Is this place for rent?"
All I could do was stare at her until I began laughing through chattering teeth until she walked away.
The neighbors came over and got Russ and me indoors where we realized that he had suffered severe smoke inhalation while salvaging his clothes and I was in the early stages of hypothermia.
Chelsea got all the food she wanted, and basically anything else we could think to give her for the remainder of her life for alerting us to the fire that morning.