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Fire shuts Kah-Nee-Ta lodge; rest of resort open

By Barney Lerten
Published On: Jul 19 2013 12:16:09 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 19 2013 08:26:47 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's John Hendricks reports on the fire at the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort lodge.

WARM SPRINGS, Ore. -

A fire broke out in the kitchen area of the lodge at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Spa on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation late Thursday afternoon and spread to the attic area, causing extensive fire and water damage and forcing closure of the resort's lodge for an undetermined time, authorities said.

On Friday, General Manager Carlos Smith said aside from the lodge, everything else was open for business.

"I think it's too early to start canceling reservations," Smith said. "We have great weather, and obviously the resort is in operation right now. We just need to get the kitchen fixed at the lodge."

Close to 400 guests were evacuated and moved to other hotels over a wide area Thursday.

The only reported injury was a cook who suffered second-degree burns to his arm as he grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to put out a grease fire that may have started the blaze, Warm Springs Fire Chief Dan Martinez  told NewsChannel 21 Thursday night. The employee was taken to St. Charles-Madras for treatment.

"The sprinkler system activated in the kitchen area, and as a result we had to turn the power off" in that location, Martinez said.

As firefighters began venting upstairs to make sure the blaze was out, "we thought we could keep the lodge open," the fire chief said. But "the fire spread up to the attic venting system, which caused the beams to catch on fire, so we had to climb on the roof to ventilate it and had to turn off more power to the main lodge."

With the sprinklers deactivated, they had to shut down the lodge and soon learned "a lot of water ended up going down the (power) conduit, which got into the panel boxes, the breaker switches," Martinez said.

About 360 people were evacuated out of the lodge, though the fire chief stressed that "the guests were never threatened, we just had to turn the power grid off."

"It's kind of disappointing for them," he said. "We had 260 cheerleaders out there. They're fine - they're out at the golf course."

Kah-Nee-Ta announced around 8:45 p.m. that the lodge would be shut for four days, but Martinez said he believed it could take up to a week for clean-up and restoration of services to the point where the facility can reopen.

Meanwhile, taxis and vans were called in to help take the evacuated guests to other hotels and motels to the south or north.

"We apologize for the inconvenience, but we've got to think of the safety of the power grid and employees," Martinez said.

About 25 to 30 firefighters were called out, including Jefferson County Fire District No. 1 crews brought in on mutual aid to help Warm Springs crews, who also tackled a couple of small brushfires on the reservation around the same time, Martinez said.

After hours spent climbing stairs and working on the lodge roof in temperatures hitting 103 degrees, "We've got a lot of tired firefighters," the chief said.

While the cook reported a grease fire, Martinez said they have some investigation work to do: "It could have been a defective venting," he said. "It may have been a substantial radiated heat type of fire. All the (kitchen) vents are protected by sprinkler systems, so it was above the sprinkler system that caught on fire, which was really odd."

Damages are being initially estimated at $150,000 to $175,000.

"We had to cut through the roof," Martinez said. "The water damage is just extensive, mainly to the kitchen, the upstairs, the main lobby section, conference rooms with standing water - lots of water damage. We've got a cleaning crew out there now."

The resort also was working to get a refrigeration unit in to store $50,000 worth of perishables delivered earlier in the day, along with generators for the areas without power, the fire official said.

Late Thursday night, the resort posted a note to its Facebook page indicating the main lodge is without power or phone service and will be closed for four days, but that Village rooms, teepees, the RV park, village pool, golf course and spa remain open.

Phone service is expected to be restored Friday morning, and Kah-Nee-Ta said they will call all guests with affected reservations.

Also still operating as normal: Indian Head Casino, which was moved from Kah-Nee-Ta  to a new facility along Highway 26 in recent years.

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