Updated September 17, 2021 - 8:05 pm
The owner of the Mount Charleston Lodge is vowing to rebuild after the main building of the historic property burned to the ground early Friday morning.
Officials determined the fire most likely started in the “vicinity of the dining area,” where the flames collapsed a portion of the building’s roof.
A Mount Charleston resident, Janet Masanz, walked out the front door of her home just before 5 a.m. Friday and was greeted by a frightening sight. Flames rising from the Mount Charleston Lodge were illuminating the skyline in front of her. The historic lodge was burning to the ground, prompting fears the fire could spread to nearby homes and the surrounding forest.
“Now that we have such a dry forest … forest fires are a risk for our homes,” Masanz said. “The first thing that came to my heart was ‘I’m going to lose the first home I bought.’”
Masanz said she gathered her pets, documents and personal belongings and headed to her parents’ house nearby.
“The fear is we would get trapped up here too, so there was panic,” she said.
A fast response by firefighters, however, would limit the damage to the lodge. It appears the fire started in the lodge’s dining room area and quickly engulfed the popular getaway in the Spring Mountains, officials said.
“It’s safe to say that the lodge is a total loss,” Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Touchstone told reporters at the scene Friday morning.
Gov. Steve Sisolak posted on Twitter on Friday morning, thanking first responders at the scene.
“Heartbreaking to hear the news about Mt. Charleston Lodge, a Southern Nevada treasure,” he said.
Investigation could take days
The Ellis Island casino in Las Vegas, which bought the lodge in 2018, confirmed in a statement that the main building was “lost” but said the company plans to rebuild the popular getaway for locals and visitors alike.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we announce that the Mount Charleston Lodge burned down this morning,” Christina Ellis, the company’s marketing director, said in a statement. “Most importantly, none of our team members nor any members of the Mount Charleston community were harmed in the fire.
“The lodge was a beloved landmark, and we plan on rebuilding and recreating the atmosphere and charm that so many were able to enjoy throughout the years.”
Investigators were working to determine the cause of the fire, which Touchstone said could take days.
Investigators do not believe anyone was harmed in the fire, Touchstone said. No lodge employees were inside when the flames broke out.
The Clark County Fire Department first received report of the fire at 4:45 a.m. Friday. Firefighters from the Mount Charleston area were the first to arrive and were soon bolstered by more county crews and some from the Las Vegas Fire Department.
“It was very apparent from the very beginning that this was going to be a defensive operation, meaning we’re not going to send anybody into the interior to fight the fire because it was too dangerous,” Touchstone said.
Firefighters focused on preventing the flames from spreading to the nearby cabins and ponderosa pines, which could have caused a forest fire, he said. Ellis Island confirmed that only the main lodge was damaged.
The lodge was built with heavy, old pine logs stacked on top of each other, Touchstone said. The construction is meant to make the building less susceptible to fire than a home in the Las Vegas Valley.
The Nevada Department of Transportation said on Twitter that state Route 158/Deer Creek Road westbound were closed at Kyle Canyon Road, and the Regional Transportation Commission tweeted that there was no access to the lodge or Mary Jane Falls.
Road closures in the area will be in effect for most of Friday, according to a Facebook post from the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area’s Go Mt. Charleston page.
‘Terrifying’ experience for residents
Masanz said she became aware of the fire when she heard someone honking their horn while driving down the road. When she and her neighbors went outside, they saw flames rising into the air.
It was “terrifying,” Masanz said, especially because of fire danger in the area. Fire restrictions are in effect for the area, meaning campfires, stove fires, smoking outside, welding or operating a torch with an open flame and using explosives are prohibited, according to the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area website.
Dari Sullivan of Henderson said she was staying at one of the lodge’s cabins when a noise woke her up about 4:45 a.m. She and her friend emerged from the cabin to find the lodge engulfed in flames rising in the pre-dawn sky.
“It was the lodge itself (that was on fire), the restaurant,” Sullivan said. “Everybody was out in the parking lot.”
Anthony Armas, a former maintenance worker and dishwasher at the lodge, said he awoke to phone calls early Friday about the fire. When he looked out his window in his home near the restaurant, he saw “billowing smoke.”
By the time he arrived at the building, firefighters were spraying water into the smoldering remains. He said about 30 employees still work at the lodge, and he hopes the company will help find them jobs.
“It’s sad,” he said. “I feel bad for my former co-workers.”
Leonie Mowat, the communications and operations director for the Southern Nevada Conservancy who also lives at Mount Charleston, said the lodge is an important part of the Southern Nevada mountain community and a centerpiece of the Mount Charleston area. She described the lodge as a gathering spot for tourists, car clubs, hikers, local law enforcement, forest service and conservancy staffers.
“Hearing that the lodge has burned down is just nerve-racking for me,” Mowat said. “It’s upsetting … I’m shaking. My stomach hurts.”
Construction of the current lodge began in 1962, after a previous lodge on the site that had been operating since at least 1948 was destroyed by a fire in December 1961, according to news accounts.
After the central A-frame building was erected, construction proceeded in phases, with a 150-person restaurant and lounge added in 1965 and 23 adjacent log cabins built later.