By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily
July was not a good month for beautiful mountain lodges in Western Wyoming.
On July 12, fire destroyed the lodge at the White Pine Ski Resort east of Pinedale.
On July 28, the historic Brooks Lake Lodge on Togwotee Pass between Dubois and Jackson suffered major damage from a fire.
Robin Blackburn, owner of White Pine, said the fire that ravaged the impressive building that contained virtually all of the operations of the ski area, was caused by a fire inside the building. Sublette County Unified Fire Public Information Office Mike Petty said the blaze was completely contained inside the lodge.
“There’s was no brush fire, there’s no damage to the forest. It was totally contained in the lodge,” Blackburn said. “The lodge is a total loss, but the people from the Department of Criminal Investigation are up there trying to determine the cause of the fire at this stage. Nothing has been said.”
Meanwhile, north of Dubois, an early morning fire damaged Brooks Lake Lodge on Togwotee Pass on Sunday, but a quick response rescued much of the historic structure.
Lodge General Manager Adam Long discovered the fire and tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher. He also called 911 at 2:32 a.m., said Jeff Golightly, chief advisor to Brooks Lake Lodge owner Max Chapman.
Golightly said the fire is being investigated by Eric Siwik of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Golightly said the fire is suspected to have started in an old fireplace in the historical building.
The fire comes on the heels of a July 2 fire at Cafe Genevieve, a historic downtown Jackson property also owned by Chapman, with other investors.
Meanwhile, back in Pinedale, emergency responders were notified of the report of a wild land fire at the resort at approximately 1:20 a.m. Emergency responders arrived on scene to an active fire in the lodge itself instead of a wild land fire. There were no injuries to responders and no extension of damage to the neighboring structures or forest.
The response included multiple personnel from Sublette County Unified Fire, Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, Sublette County EMS, Sublette County Emergency Management and Bridger Teton National Forest.
Fire crews contained the fire to the lodge building and monitored the surrounding areas to ensure the fire didn’t spread to the surrounding forest or buildings.
Blackburn said she was notified of the fire around 4 a.m. when the fire was all but put out. Now the process of taking the next steps begins.
Following inspections by the insurance company, Blackburn said she and her husband Alan intend to rebuild the structure. She also said it doesn’t appear that any damage was done to the ski lift lines either.
“We need to rebuild it. It’s a really important part of the community,” she said. “The ski area serves not only Sublette County, but Sweetwater and Fremont, and I think it would be a huge loss to everyone if we didn’t rebuild.”
Blackburn said the damage is extensive, including one corner of the lodge that contained the boiler below and extending up into the kitchen area.
Blackburn said they may consider putting up a temporary structure to get them through the winter. With contractors booked out repairing and rebuilding homes in the area following the Roosevelt Fire last summer, it might be some time before the project begins.
“I mean it’s really early days for us to know what to do or what to say. But our intent is to go forward and provide something again for the community,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, up at Togwotee Pass, the response to the Brooks Lake Lodge fire was amazing. “It’s just unbelievable,” Golightly said.
The Dubois Fire Department and Fremont County Fire Department responded in about a half hour and successfully extinguished the blaze over the course of several hours, Dubois Fire Chief Mike Franchini said. The response included eight engines, a water tender and an air unit.
“Firefighters attacked the fire from the interior and cut vent holes on the roof,” Franchini said. “The historic building was saved.”
Eric Siwik of the State Fire Marshal’s office said the fire started in a confined space. It very well could have smoldered for quite awhile before being discovered.
He said his office is working closely with insurance investigators in exploring the cause.
No employees or guests were injured, and damage was limited to the ceiling and roof of the “tea room” and part of the dining room. Golightly estimated about 10 percent of the building suffered damage.
“None of our cabins were damaged, none of our lodge rooms were damaged, the lobby, the bar wasn’t damaged,” Golightly said. “We’re lucky that our GM caught it, and we’re lucky that the Dubois Fire Department and the Fremont County Fire Department all showed up and got it put out in a pretty reasonable amount of time.”
The 98-year-old lodge is still hosting guests although the dining room and tea room are closed, Golightly said. The bar, lobby and lodging remain open.
Golightly said it was a close call, and he’s grateful the general manager spotted the fire in the middle of the night, and for the firefighters’ fast response.
“It was just an incredible job by those guys,” he said. “We were very fortunate. No guests and no employees got hurt, that’s what’s important to us.”
Built in 1922 and originally named the Two-Gwo-Tee Inn, Brooks Lake Lodge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
(Reporting from Jackson Hole News & Guide, Buckrail, County 10, and other sources contributed to this article.)