VIRGINIA CITY - Investigators believe a smoldering cigarette sparked an oxygen tank, causing a fire that nearly destroyed a historic home.
The fire late Wednesday night at 104 North A St., two streets above the fire station, started when the tenant left an oxygen tank running when he left the room, fire marshal's investigators said.
By the time he returned, about midnight, flames were spewing out of the end of the breathing tube, said fire marshal's deputy Vicky Stevens. "We think it was an accidental fire," she said.
Preliminary estimates for damage are in the $45,000 range, said Virginia City Fire Chief Gary Haimes. He said that estimate could rise or fall after an official appraisal is done.
Exterior damage was mostly smoke related, with part of the shake roof caved in. Inside, severe structural damage has made the house uninhabitable. Several rooms at the rear suffered little damage, compared with damage to rooms in the front.
Firefighters had some trouble fighting the fire because of a late start and a dangerous situation with a "flash over," Haimes said.
The occupant didn't have a telephone, so he drove to the fire station looking for help. "It caused a significant delay in response," Haimes said.
The flash over, a sudden burst of flame, occurred when firefighters opened the front door, a typical tactic in this type of fire.
A neighbor's house was within a foot of the burning home, creating a potential for flames to gain momentum and jump, Haimes said.
Despite the noise of fire stations from Virginia City, Silver Springs, Nevada Division of Forestry and Carson City, the neighbors slept through nearly the whole incident. After banging on the front door, firefighters finally awoke the family and warned them about the fire next door.
The home is part of the Virginia City historic district, said Bert Bedeau, who works at the Comstock Historic District headquarters.
"The last time we did an inventory on that house was 1985," he said. "It was estimated that the house was built between 1860 and 1870. It was and probably still is a contributing member to Virginia City's living history.
"This made my day a little bit depressing. It's always a shame to lose one of these old houses."
According to the deed, the house is owned by Shane Colletti and others.