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Fire damages Guerneville lodge

Marie Rooney talks with a Russian River fire fighter outside her room which burned during a fire at the Guerneville Lodge in Guerneville on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.

Beth Schlanker/ PD
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 7:24 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 1:59 p.m.

GUERNEVILLE -- Fire severely damaged a long-standing Guerneville lodge early Monday, displacing 12 people and sending six to the hospital for evaluations, fire officials reported.

Residents, including two babies, who lived there escaped the burning old River Road lodge thanks in part to one awake resident who smelled smoke and ran through the hallway yelling and pounding on doors.

"It was pretty bad. I was scared. I thought for sure some people would not get out," said Luke Owens, whose yells alerted his neighbors.

Arriving Russian River firefighters rescued one man hanging from a second-story ledge as flames burned just feet away.

A second man was rescued from the window of his third-story room, which was filling with smoke, said Russian River fire Capt. Ryan Lantz.

Flames scorched about one-third of the 12-room, 6,500-square-foot Guerneville Lodge, formerly the Inn at the Willows. The riverfront lodge stands near the eastern entrance to town and has been the scene of many large events and celebrations over the years.

The fire charred three rooms, a kitchen and deck as well as caused smoke and heat damage to other areas, said Russian River Fire Chief Max Ming.

The damage was estimated at $300,000.

A 3:46 a.m. 911 call came from lodge manager Dorothy Fisher, who was awakened by Owens' shouts. Four minutes later a four-man Russian River fire crew arrived to find the west end of the lodge engulfed in flames.

Forestville, Cal Fire and Monte Rio departments also responded, totalling 17 firefighters and seven engines. Ming praised firefighters from several agencies who held the blaze to a portion of the building.

A preliminary investigation showed a possible cause was a malfunctioning flue pipe to a pellet stove, Lantz said.

The pipe passed through or near the closet of a room on the second floor housing Kevin Delaney and his girlfriend. She smelled smoke and opened the closet door to investigate.

"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 his graying head.

Owens, who also was at the neighbor's, said he was up because he'd gone downstairs to make his awake and hungry girlfriend some waffles.

"I saw embers and flames shooting out from under the door," Owens said.

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 deck edge.

"I told him he had to jump," said Owens' girlfriend, Robin Donohue. "I was pretty afraid for him. It was shocking how fast the fire and smoke spread."

Two men, two women and two babies went to the hospital and were treated and released.

Five-year lodge owner Alvin Cooper vowed to rebuild the rustic 1939 building, which started as a hunting lodge.

Residents in the three burned rooms lost everything and everyone staying at the lodge was displaced. Red Cross volunteers arranged for hotel stays and provided funds for groceries, food, clothing, shoes and other necessities for nine adults and two infants.

Neighbor Jeniffer Wertz, who said she didn't know any of the victims, had welcomed them into her home Monday morning, offering coffee and a comfortable seat.

"They're traumatized," said Wertz. "They'd would probably do it for me."

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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