Photo by Mary JamesMike TaborskiPublisherUpdated 1/27/2010
While long overdue, but genuinely welcomed by snowmobile and skiing enthusiasts, last week’s heavy Sierra snowfall crippled volunteer firefighters’ efforts to respond to an early morning fire Wednesday, Jan. 20, that completely destroyed historical Bucks Lake Lodge, two outbuildings and the owner’s adjacent cabin residence. No injuries were reported.
In the winter months, the Bucks Lake area is accessible only by snowmobile, snow cats or cross-country skis.
Rudy Gutierrez, who was staying in a cabin next to the lodge, saw flames and called 911 at 4:32 a.m.
He was visiting his brother, Luis Gutierrez, who, along with his partner Rebecca Guereque, own and operate this popular year -round resort.
Resort owners could not be reached for comment, but several people who have had contact with them said the couple plans to rebuild the resort.
It was also unknown at press time whether they can keep the remaining cabins and nearby 12-unit Timberline Lodge open this winter.
Bucks Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeff Iverson was at his cabin at the lake and was on the scene within minutes of the 911 call.
“It was already fully engulfed in flames. Both Luis and Rudy were outside and safe and I was able to quickly confirm no others were in any danger,” Iverson said.
As soon as he knew the area was secured, the fire chief called Bucks resident Jan Prince, who immediately started calling other residents known to be staying on “the hill,” directing them to meet at the parking area at Bucks’ Summit.
Shortly after 5 a.m., on snowmobiles and snow cats they began transporting first responders, including volunteer firefighters from Bucks Lake and Meadow Valley and Plumas District Hospital EMTs, to the incident.
Iverson said the timing was terrible for an incident of this nature.
“Besides few people staying on the hill this time of year, this was our biggest storm of the season. It dumped almost two feet of fresh powder Tuesday night, and that was on top of an existing three-foot base. The high winds knocked out our power and phone service, and trees, limbs and branches were strewn all along the snow-covered roads.”
Given the conditions, he credited the efforts of the volunteer firefighters and the quick actions of this closely knit community mobilizing to prevent what could have been a much larger disaster.
Knowing nothing could be done to save the main building, members of the Meadow Valley department swiftly built snow breaks with shovels, saving the adjacent cabin structures.
Jay Grubbs, whose family enjoys a long history at Bucks Lake, also saved an adjacent structure by making an insulated firewall with snow using a snow-grooming machine.
Reno, Nev., resident Mary James, another cabin owner who was on the hill and helped transport responders to the site that morning, provided this newspaper and its website with some early fire photos.
“I’ve been coming here since 1970 and worked at the lodge for 18 years beginning in 1977, so I feel like I lost a friend,” she said.
Bucks Lake Lodge was built in 1929 by Ed Lane and has seen a number of owners over the ensuing years.
Ken and Dixie Nelson, who owned and operated Bucks Lake Lodge for the longest period, 28 years, before selling it to Gutierrez and Guereque three years ago, were saddened at the news.
“We raised our family there; it was full of memories,” said Ken Nelson. “Our heart goes out to Luis and Rebecca. They are the nicest, hardworking people you’d ever want to know.”
The Nelsons’ daughter, Debbie Knipe, has spent the better part of her life at Bucks, runs Haskins Bed & Breakfast, now the only remaining operational winter facility at the lake.
Like the handful of other helpless spectators watching the Bucks landmark burn that morning, Knipe said it was crushing; flames were shooting so high in the sky and there was very little anyone could do. “It is just so sad.”
“This will create a major void and will have a huge impact this summer,” said Dewitt Henderson. He and his wife, Kim, have owned and operated the Bucks Lake Marina since 1992. Kim is the Nelson’s other daughter.
The good news, Henderson said, is they hope to sign a lease agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric as early as next week to take over Lakeshore Resort, which has been shuttered for four years.
“If we can resolve a few minor issues with PG&E, we should begin making repairs to the facility this spring and hopefully open the bar, restaurant and store by mid-summer,” he said.
Suzi Brakken, director of the Plumas County Visitors Bureau, called the lodge “a beloved icon of Plumas County” and said its loss, along with the continued closure of Lakeshore Resort, would have a huge impact on tourism in the area. She noted the facility provided not just lodging, but also a place to dine, hang out and get groceries and gas.
LeTroy Justeson, secretary of the Bucks Lake Snowdrifters, said the club would still hold its annual snowmobile poker run at Bucks Lake scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 6.
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