STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The summer without power finally came to an end after 60 days.
But residents of Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park say they’re still feeling the effects of spending the hottest and smokiest two months of the year without lights or air conditioning. Power was restored to every mobile home in the park last month except for one that caught fire June 16, the day the power outage began.
But in the past couple of weeks, residents of the park along the Yampa River and next to the Steamboat Springs city limits sign say they have been through two water outages that lasted about four hours each. One family moved away and another is planning to sell their mobile home and leave, according to neighbors.
And questions remain about why the residents of Sleepy Bear, who say they are the forgotten residents of a wealthy ski town, had to wait so long to get their electricity back. A state investigation into what happened at the mobile home park is ongoing. The state Department of Local Affairs will release no details until its review is complete, as per the rules of the state’s Mobile Home Park Act, according to department spokesman Brett McPherson.
The mid-June fire burned one mobile home’s electrical pedestal, climbed up an exterior wall of the trailer and burned down the next-door neighbor’s backyard shed. Flames also damaged a second mobile home. Before the fires, an excavation company was repairing a water leak when the electricity suddenly went out. When the power was restarted, a surge ignited the blaze, according to a preliminary investigation. Fifteen of the park’s 54 homes lost power.
Routt County’s building department required the mobile home park owner to fix the entire electrical system, a process that lasted two months. When the system was finished, each mobile home owner had to hire an electrician to inspect electric lines inside the homes.
Routt County’s building department, which expedited permits, said local electricians performed the work, though the county had at least one offer from an electrician in the Front Range after media coverage about Sleepy Bear.
Residents spent most of the summer in the dark and without the ability to plug in air conditioning units. Those who had electric water heaters had to take cold showers or use the showers at the KOA campground next door.
The park, which was once an RV campground along the river, has an aging infrastructure, similar to mobile home parks across the nation. Many were built in the 1950s to 1970s, and in most, the land is owned by the park owner while residents own their homes.
Sleepy Bear residents said the experience has left them concerned about what happens next.
“This certainly isn’t the end of Sleepy Bear’s problems,” said Norma Ruth Ryan, who moved to Sleepy Bear from Denver looking for peace and quiet. “Until the entire park’s infrastructure, including electricity, water, and sewer lines, is updated, I fear this, or worse, is inevitable.”
The community brought Sleepy Bear coolers and pizzas and restaurant gift cards during the ordeal. But Ryan wonders now whether Steamboat Springs will keep up the conversation about how to help its aging mobile home park.
“I hope people don’t stop caring just because we can run our refrigerators and do our own laundry again,” she said. “We’re as insecure on the park’s land as we were before this happened. We just have a better idea of what the worst case scenario of infrastructure failure looks like.”
Ryan has no plans to leave, however. “I don’t know where else I’d go,” she said. “If there’s one thing the park owner has been right about, it’s that this is the cheapest place in town.”
Fred McCracken, whose shed full of fishing equipment burned down the day of the fires, moved out of Sleepy Bear and away from Steamboat after spending the summer living out of a cooler on his front stoop. He cooked outside on a camp stove because his home was too hot.
McCracken said he moved for multiple reasons and will miss his neighbors, but he said he was “exhausted by ‘camping’ for so long, both mentally and physically.” On top of it all, McCracken said he has not received any compensation for his $6,000 in fishing equipment that was burned in the fires.
KTH Enterprises, which owns Sleeps Bear and two other mobile home parks, in Salida and Palisade, has spent more than $1 million in the past decade on infrastructure upgrades to the park, company manager Thomas Morgan told The Sun earlier this summer.
Morgan said he is confident the state investigation will find that the park was not negligent and that the power outage was the result of an aging system that included not only the park infrastructure but electrical boxes owned by each home owner and the transformer owned by the local power company.