Late on July 4, 2018, as local residents watched in horror and disbelief as the Lake Christine Fire raged through the midvalley, deputy chief Cleve Williams was on the front lines. His home on Vista Hi Drive north of El Jebel was in imminent danger, and as a longtime firefighter with the Basalt & Rural Fire Protection District, he was in the area working to protect multiple houses. No one had expected the fire, which started July 3, to move downvalley—but unusually high winds pushed flames west of the fire’s site of origin at the Basalt Shooting Range and soon crested the ridge adjacent to Cleve’s own property. By this time, he knew the situation was dire.
Three brush trucks and a crew of six would not be able to save his home from the blaze that night. In the early morning hours of July 5, the Williams residence was lost forever. The fire’s rapidly encroaching heat burst its windows, and soon the structure was completely engulfed.
When any remaining hope was lost, Cleve made the call and the crew left his property. They evacuated the site safely, and continued fighting fire elsewhere. Although his home was gone, Cleve and his team labored tirelessly to save several homes that night as the fire expanded into Missouri Heights.
“We didn’t stop,” recalls Cleve, who is now with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue (RFFR). “We couldn’t. We had a responsibility to keep working.”
The smoke, both literally and figuratively, would not begin to clear for the Williams family or the valley at large for months to come. But by the fall of 2018, Cleve and his wife Kerry remember that things began to look up.
“Shortly after the fire, we were living in our RV parked at Cleve’s mother’s house at the bottom of Missouri Heights,” Kerry says. “Our son stayed in the house there, and our daughter was away at college. We wanted to be able to get back up to our own property, so the county granted us a temporary permit to have a mobile home on our land. We moved into it in October that year.”
By this time, Cleve and Kerry had connected with Jill Speed of Michael Fuller Architects through their mutual friend, RFFR assistant fire marshal Brooke Stott. The Williamses wanted to rebuild, and they needed help designing a new home. Having lived within a five-mile radius of El Jebel all their lives (aside from a brief stint near Cottonwood Pass in their newlywed days), there was no doubt whatsoever that they would stay on their property.
“We grew up here. We both graduated from Basalt High School. Our extended families live here and we’ve raised our children here,” Kerry says. “Cleve has been a firefighter for 30 years, and our roots are in the midvalley. We would never want to be anywhere else.”
Speed, together with architect Michael Fuller, quickly saw what a new home would mean to the Williams family. They got to work right away.
“I went up to the site to meet with them, and it was heart wrenching,” Speed remembers. “The house was destroyed but a few sentimental items had somehow made it through the fire, like some pieces of old family china. I was absolutely blown away by how beautiful the property was though, with the amazing views. It was a great starting place to work with.”
Fuller recalls that Cleve and Kerry were very open to making a new space; they had no desire to re-create their old home. And although they had some specifics in mind, they were comfortable with his creative vision and were open to new ideas.
“Cleve and Kerry never had a mindset of ‘looking back,’” he says. “Instead, they were bravely looking forward.”
Unlike many custom homes that are subject to the valley’s notoriously lengthy build times, the new Williams house was completed in record time thanks to numerous helping hands. Glenwood Springs-based Ridge Runner Construction handled the official to-do list, while members of Cleve and Kerry’s close circle of friends and family helped whenever they could.
“Everyone went above and beyond to get us into the new house as soon as possible. From the time we started digging to the time we got our CO [certificate of occupancy], it was only six months and three days,” Cleve reports. He and Kerry, along with their teenage son Cole, were able to move in by October 2019.
Architects Fuller and Speed say it was an honor to help the Williams family rebuild their lives after such a devastating experience.
“For a firefighter like Cleve to lose his home in that way just felt unfair,” Fuller says. “He has been insistent on helping other people his entire life—very selfless, to a high degree. In his own time of need, the people around him and his family showed up, and turned a tragedy into a positive moment. That is what community is all about.”
The Williams Home
Designed by Michael Fuller Architects
4,600 sq. ft. main home
850 sq. ft. garage/shop
610 sq. ft. covered patios
4 ½ baths
Additional 4,900 sq. ft barn
The Williams family wishes to thank the following people and companies for their generosity during the rebuild:
Brent and Roxanne Lough
Aspen Overhead Door