Fire damages Guerneville lodge
By RANDI ROSSMANN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
GUERNEVILLE — Fire severely damaged a long-standing Guerneville lodge early Monday, displacing 12 people and sending six to the hospital for evaluations, fire officials
Flames scorched about one-third of the old River Road resort, charring three rooms, a kitchen and deck as well as causing smoke and heat damage to other areas, said Russian River Fire Chief Max Ming.
Four Russian River firefighters arrived first, at 3:50 a.m., finding heavy smoke and flames shooting out of the Guerneville Lodge, formerly the Inn at the Willows.
They also were told some people still could be inside the burning building, and one man was hanging from a second-story ledge.
The man and a second resident were rescued by firefighters using ladders.
Others got out on their own, alerted initially by lodger Luke Owens, who first smelled smoke and yelled and pounded on doors, residents said.
The fire appeared to have started in a front room where Kevin Delaney and his girlfriend were staying. She smelled smoke in a closet and opened the closet door.
“Flames started shooting out,” said Delaney, who hours later was at a neighbor’s home, getting hot coffee and a warm place to rest.
“My hair is singed a little bit,” he said, reaching up to a lock of browned hair on the graying head.
Owens said he was awake because he’d gone downstairs to make his girlfriend some waffles. She’d been unable to sleep and was hungry.
Returning upstairs he smelled smoke. He and girlfriend Robin Donohoe left their room to investigate and found the fire.
“I saw embers and flames shooting out from under the door of room one,” said Owens.
Realizing there was a fire, Donohoe grabbed her diaries and purse and headed out and Owens headed down the hall to sound the alert.
“It was pretty bad. I was scared. I thought for sure some people would not get out,” Owens said.
Manager Dorothy Fisher awoke at about 3:45 a.m., hearing Owens yelling. Fisher got up to see what the ruckus was about and found flames.
She called 911, alerting Russian River firefighters stationed just a few blocks away.
A major concern in the first minutes by residents was the welfare of two women with infants staying at the lodge and whether they’d gotten outside.
They had, joining others outside.
Some of the residents retreated to the lodge’s large backyard, which sweeps down to the Russian River.
That’s when they saw the man known as “Montana” dangling from the second-floor ledge.
He was fearful to jump, but his room was one fire and flames were burning closer, residents said.
Donohoe encouraged him drop.
“I’ve got nowhere to go,” the man said, recounted Donohoe.
“I told him he had to jump,” she said. “I was pretty afraid for him. It was shocking how fast the fire and smoke spread.”
Before he had to make a move the firefighters arrived with a ladder. They got the man and a second man trapped upstairs safely down to the ground.
Of the 12, two men, two women and two babies went to the hospital, mainly as a precaution. Residents said Montana appeared to have slight burns to one shoulder.
In the first minutes of the fire, manager Fisher also called the lodge’s owner, Alvin Cooper of Petaluma. Cooper raced up to Guerneville to find the building still ablaze and the ongoing firefighting effort.
“Everybody’s OK,” said the relieved owner, who also noted there were infants staying there.
The Guernville Lodge was built in 1939 as a hunting lodge, said Cooper.
Standing along the river near the eastern entrance to town, it’s been the scene of many large events and celebrations over the years.
Rooms at the lodge currently are rented by people as a temporary residence.
Cooper, who said he bought the lodge five years ago, said he will rebuild.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” he said.
The CHP closed River Road because of downed power lines, and to allow numerous fire trucks to park in the lanes. Eastbound traffic was opened at about 8:45 a.m. and westbound remained diverted to nearby Old River Road.
The fire’s cause remained under investigation, Ming said.
Ming praised firefighters from several agencies who held the blaze to a portion of the building.
Russian River was aided by Forestville, Cal Fire and Monte Rio firefighters.
Residents in the three rooms burned lost everything.
Delaney, wearing ill-fitting borrowed clothing and shoes, said he and his girlfriend not only lost all of their clothing but also their identification and car keys.
He feared for his black and white cat, Tuxedo, who he’d hoped had escaped the fire and would return.
Red Cross volunteers were meeting with victims and offering clothing, food and temporary lodging.
Neighbor Jeniffer Wertz, who said she didn’t know any of the victims, had walked over to let them know they could come into her home.
“They’re traumatized,” said Wertz. “They’d would probably do it for me.”