Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Soldier lodge victim of electric fire

Master plan calls for eventual replacement of decades-old structure


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

In this image, taken by Edward Reagan of the Camas Courier, rubble is all that remains of the Soldier Mountain lodge. Photo by

A fire that destroyed the lodge at Soldier Mountain ski area near Fairfield on Monday may speed up redevelopment plans on the mountain. Fire officials say the blaze's source was traced to the building's wiring.

The rustic, late 1940s-era lodge was at the base of Soldier Mountain, north of Fairfield. Long-term plans for the family-oriented ski area call for replacing the structure.

Ski area Manager Larry Davenport said he first received a report of the fire about 7:30 a.m. He said that by 11:15 a.m., the lodge and a nearby building used as a ski rental shop had burned down.

"The lodge was already on the ground" when firefighters arrived, said Wayne Marolf, the chief of the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department, which covers all of Camas County.

No injuries were reported.

Firefighters and the Camas County Sheriff's Office responded to the blaze.

Marolf and a state fire marshal investigated the scene Tuesday.

Initial reports that the fire began in the lodge fireplace, Marolf said, are inaccurate. By Tuesday afternoon, Marolf and investigators had narrowed the cause down to a problem with the building's electrical wiring, he said. The ignition of the fire was traced to either the electrical baseboard heating unit, or the point at which the electric wiring enters the building, both of which are within two feet of each other.

"It's a real good chance it's electrical," Marolf said.

The ski area, 62 miles southwest of Sun Valley, had closed for the season Saturday, March 28.

Built in the late 1940s, the lodge and ski area were established through the efforts of former Fairfield farmer Bob Frostenson and his friend Harry Durall. In the beginning, they installed two rope tows, the first powered by a 1938 Chevrolet engine.

Today, the ski area boasts 1,150 acres of inbound terrain and its three lifts provide access to a vertical rise of 1,425 feet.

The ski area is now owned by Valley Entertainment Group, which is owned by actor Bruce Willis, a part-time Wood River Valley resident.

Shelly Scott, Hailey-based office manager for Valley Entertainment, said some employees were at the ski area Sunday to close down the facilities.

Valley Entertainment earlier this year had unveiled plans to vastly expand facilities at the area.

Planners envision a future for the low-key ski hill that includes snowmaking, the addition of up to four new ski lifts, trail clearing and a new day lodge at the base of the mountain. Last October, they submitted an in-depth master plan to the Sawtooth National Forest's Fairfield Ranger District for review. The plan details the direction in which they'd like to take Soldier Mountain during the coming decades.

The master plan states that a new base lodge will be built once the mountain begins attracting 30,000 visitors each season. According to figures included in the document, 16,061 visitors took to the mountain during the 2007-08 season.

The master plan also mentions the possibility of an "on-mountain facility."

As for what the fire means for the future of the ski area, Scott said it is too early to say. She confirmed plans to replace the lodge but "not this quick."

Jason Kauffman: jkauffman@mtexpress.com

Express staff writer Greg Foley contributed to this story.






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