Fire destroys Royal Gorge lodge |

Fire destroys Royal Gorge lodge

Scott hessA fire that started in the early hours Thursday burned down the 14,000-square-foot Royal Gorge lodge Thursday. The fire is under investigation.

Smoke and steam rose from the piles of embers that used to be the Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge, as the resort’s owner, John Soluber, surveyed the total loss. The only identifiable remains from the 14,000-square-foot structure were charred industrial kitchen appliances, the foundation and two oversized chimneys.

“It’s a devastating loss for us, but we’re going to deal with it,” Soluber said Thursday morning as the fire was still being extinguished.

“We’ll rebuild it,” he said. “It’s just a bit of bad timing.”

Just the night before, Royal Gorge employees were moving into the lodge for the winter, replacing the Boy Scout Camp Pahatsi, which uses the building in the summer. Little did the employees know that the lodge would be engulfed in flames early the next morning.

Several drivers on Interstate 80 called dispatch from their cell phones at 5:30 a.m., saying they could see the glow of flames south of Soda Springs, said Donner Summit Fire District Assistant Chief Steve Lieberman. Because the only access road to the lodge is long and unpaved, it took the first crews approximately 20 minutes to arrive at the scene. Other units arrived within the hour.

“Over the years, this has been an area we’ve been concerned about,” Lieberman said. “(The lodge) had a good fire inspection and fire safety program.”

The building was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived, but there was little extension into the surrounding wild land. Lieberman estimated the fire started some time around midnight.

“If we had the same fire yesterday (Wednesday) with the same winds we had yesterday, it would have spread a lot more into the wild land,” Lieberman said.

When Donner Summit fire crews arrived on the scene, they used a portable pump to draw water from a nearby pond until Truckee Fire Protection District crews arrived with a water tender and an engine.

Later Thursday morning, pockets of flames were still burning in the rubble as crews did overhaul and mop-up on the fire. Lieberman estimated crews would not leave the scene until the end of the day.

In addition to Donner Summit and Truckee fire districts, Dutch Flat and California Department of Forestry also worked on the structure fire.

The fire was caused by something inside the structure, Lieberman said, although the cause is still under investigation.

Some sections of the Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge dated back to 1865, and the building underwent some renovation and remodeling approximately 10 years ago.

The Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge is just outside of Serene Lakes off Pahatsi Road.

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