OAKHURST – Anyone driving through Oakhurst early this morning could not have missed the lights, the sirens and the orange glow near the center of town.
Just after midnight on Thursday, May 23, calls began coming in to 911 of a fire at the Oakhurst Lodge on Highway 41.
The first engine arriving at the scene from Madera County Fire reported that there was fire throughout several rooms of the 25-room hotel, and it began to spread quickly.
David and Mike, visitors from Western Australia who were staying at the lodge, said they smelled a bit of smoke in their room, but certainly never expected to find the place on fire.
“People were running up and down, saying ‘get out, get out,’ so we grabbed our stuff, and got our car out of the parking lot,” they said.
The two had arrived earlier in the evening from a few days in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, and were headed for Yosemite in the morning. They were just glad to have retrieved their passports before the building was engulfed in flames.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson says the fire started somewhere near the center of the building, and quickly moved into the attic.
“This is an old building, built sometime around the 1950s,” said Christopherson. “There were no fire stops in the attic. We also had problems with fire in the basement. It ran the length of the building throughout the basement.”
Of the 25 rooms at the Lodge, 24 were occupied, and everyone needed to be evacuated in a hurry.
“The fortunate thing is that someone noticed the fire right away, reported it, and went around to all the rooms, working with the manager and the hotel staff to make sure everyone was out,” said Christopherson.
“There were an additional 22 people evacuated from the adjacent building at the hotel complex, and everyone was moved by the Sheriff’s Department to neighboring hotels.”
CHP and Sheriff’s deputies made sure all vehicles were removed from the property so as not to inhibit firefighters and equipment.
It didn’t take long for the entire building to be fully involved. The flames could be seen from miles around, and many of the firefighters who responded had just finished knocking down a fire in the YLP area that started shortly after 8 p.m. on Wednesday, less than four hours earlier.
At one point, the situation became too dangerous for firefighters to work inside the building, having fire in the attic overhead and all through the basement, and crews were pulled back to work the fire from the outside.
“Firefighter safety is our main priority,” said Christopherson, “and the building had become unsafe.”
CHP and Cal Trans blocked off Highway 41 between Road 426 and Stagecoach Road (425A) for an indefinite time, and people lined the street, some to watch, some who were displaced from their rooms.
“We have an investigator interviewing people who were in the hotel rooms,” said Christopherson. “As for the cause, it is too early to tell. The only thing we do know is that it started in the center of the building.”
There were 30 firefighters at the scene as of 2 a.m., with six Cal Fire Engines and five from Madera County Fire Department.
“We’ve had no injuries and the cause is under investigation,” said Christopherson. “The loss to the business is estimated at $1 million.”
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