The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Whitecap main lodge burns Friday

 

January 19, 2019

Ralph Ansami / Daily Globe

TWO FIREFIGHTERS ascend a Hurley Fire Department truck ladder Friday afternoon at the Whitecap Mountain main lodge fire.

UPSON, Wis. - Employees at the Whitecap Mountain ski resort watched hopelessly late Friday afternoon as the main lodge area burned out of control.

Iron County fire departments attempted to save the check-in area on the south end of the main lodge, as the building to the north burned to the ground by 6:30 p.m.

On Martin Luther King weekend, which is usually the busiest time of the downhill ski season, many skiers also watched the building burn.

David Dziuban, who is managing an effort to revitalize the resort, said the fire appeared to start in a chimney with a fireplace near the cafe.

An employee said it started around 4 p.m.

Much of the building was renovated in the past several months.

Dziuban, struggling to breathe after coming out of the building with a bin full of possessions, said 70 people had been working at the ski resort. It opened for skiing about a month ago.

Smoke from the blaze was visible for miles by 4:30 p.m. A former employee said much of the building was constructed of cedar, which burns rapidly, and there was an asphalt-tiled roof that produced heavy black smoke.

The temperature was around zero, but there wasn't much wind as firefighters from throughout the county and Ironwood battled the blaze, originally reported as a kitchen fire.Asked if the check-in area of the building to the south could be saved, Mark Sbraggia, an employee working on the renovation project, said, "They're trying."

Occupants of the nearby condominiums were evacuated.

Iron County Sheriff's Department deputy Jason Geach said as of around 6 p.m., no one had been injured, although there were several loud explosions, with a big bang occurring at 5:59 p.m.

"Seventy people without jobs," one bystander muttered as he surveyed the spectacular blaze.

Dziuban spoke with the Globe last fall about his renovation crew, saying, "These are all local people. We wanted to make an effort to hire locally."

The main lodge was renovated into a new cafeteria, kitchen, restaurant and bar.

The Whitecap board of directors unveiled additional plans to renovate the facility at a fall golf tournament at Whitecap, including a new chairlift system to be installed next summer.

Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe

AROUND 5 p.m. Friday, flames shoot high from the main lodge at Whitecap Mountain, near Upson, Wis. Because of the ski resort's large parking lot, spectators could safely view the fire from a distance.

Whitecap, with its hotel and lodging, can accommodate 500 guests.

A board of directors that includes five property owners or shareholders had been meeting on a weekly basis last fall to gauge the progress of the renovation efforts.

"Unfortunately, we had a major fire today at the main lodge. All staff and guests are safe. Private homes in the village and the hotel are safe, but are currently without power," Whitecap officials said in a statement released Friday night.

"We will update as more information becomes available. Thank you for all the kind words of support. We will rebuild," the statement concluded.

It appeared as if the fire would be fought into the wee hours of the morning and backup help was still arriving around 7:30 p.m. By that time, most spectators had left the parking lot, as firefighters continued the battle in the frigid cold.

 
 

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