January 19, 2012 | Vol. 42 No. 3

Cause of lodge fire hard to pinpoint

While Bruce Bauer is hell-bent on making his Mosquito Lake lodge rise from the ashes, the cause of the fire that destroyed most of the structure may never be known.

“I’d sure like to know what happened here,” Bauer said.

The Dec. 16 fire started near the chimney in the attic, Bauer and fire officials said. The fire was investigated for insurance purposes by Robert Jaegge with Case Forensics in Anchorage. Jaegge said he could not comment publicly about his findings, but he told the Chilkat Valley News there “was nothing suspicious” about the fire. Bauer said Jaegge told him the cause was apparently some sort of radiant material near the chimneystack that probably caused the blaze.

The fire destroyed the roof, attic and second story of the 6,000-square-foot building dubbed The Funny Farm. Water also damaged much of the inside wall structure. Bauer estimated the damage at about $500,000.

Klehini Valley Fire Department and Haines Fire Departments responded to the fire. Klehini fire chief Robert Clay said he found nothing suspicious about the fire and therefore didn’t report it to state fire marshals. Alaska State Trooper Josh Bentz said he received word that the fire was a chimney fire and so he thought damage was minimal. However, when Bentz was in the Mosquito Lake area 10 days later, he drove by the site and discovered the extent of the damage was much more than he originally thought.

“I happened to be in that area and saw it and thought ‘holy cow,’” Bentz said. “I didn’t realize there was that much damage.”

Bentz contacted the Division of Fire and Life Safety with the state Department of Public Safety in Juneau. But Deputy Fire Marshal Robert Plumb said too much time had elapsed for him to investigate properly.

Plumb said there are several criteria that would warrant a call to the fire marshal, including damage more than a half million dollars.

Clay said he couldn’t be certain of the damage estimate at the time firefighters extinguished the blaze but he didn’t think it warranted an investigation.

“I’m not aware that just because of the extent of damage that (the fire marshal) has to come investigate,” Clay said.

Bauer said Jaegge told him it was clear the fire was not ignited by any electrical means.

As for the rebuild, Bauer said he and his family recently finished demolishing roof remnants and charred materials. While the exterior is intact, the fire destroyed all the interior walls.

“The place is gutted,” Bauer said.

The Alcan 200 snowmachine race this weekend would normally be the start of Funny Farm’s busy season. Bauer usually operates the lodge in the winter season and spends summers fishing as a longliner. But, after 32 years, he’s retiring from fishing this year to spend more time with his family and will make a go of keeping the lodge open year round after reconstruction.

Bauer isn’t sure of a timeline when the lodge will be open, but he hopes by this summer he can start hosting guests again.

Friends and locals have helped and offered support during the last several weeks. And Bauer said he took time to personally thank as many of the fire personnel as possible.

“It was phenomenal what these guys did,” Bauer said. “They just jumped right in. They did their job so professionally.”