Ruins of historic Greer Lodge still smoldering, ATF to assist investigation


by Catherine Holland

Posted on May 10, 2011 at 6:13 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 12:15 PM

Map: Greer Lodge Resort & Cabins

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GREER, Ariz. -- A massive fire destroyed the main lodge of the historic Greer Lodge Resort & Cabins in the White Mountains in eastern Arizona early Tuesday morning.

> View Photos: Greer Lodge Fire

Details were not immediately available, but neighbors and local fire crews said the fire broke out in the main lodge building shortly before 4:30 a.m.

"Flames were shooting into the sky," said Ginny Smith, a full-time resident who lives just south of the lodge. "The actual lodge, itself, has burnt to the ground."

The flames were visible for miles. Visitors who were staying in cabins at the resort said they had only minutes to evacuate. There was one couple staying in the main lodge building itself. They escaped unharmed and called 911.

"As soon as I jumped in my vehicle and got on highway 373 headed to the lodge, I could see the glow," said Greer Lodge owner Doug Sandahl. "As we got closer, we were just overwhelmed with emotion. ... The structure, when I arrived, was completely engulfed in flames. You couldn't tell where the fire started. The whole building was engulfed."

The ruins of the main lodge building were still smoldering more than 24 hours later.

Fire crews kept the flames from spreading to nearby cabins and the surrounding forest. Sandahl said those cabins will remain open.

"This time of the year, we're pretty full every weekend, so it will be business as usual," Sandahl said.

Established in 1948, the Greer Lodge Resort, which sits on the Little Colorado River, has been a popular getaway for decades.

The original building housed a kitchen, a dining room and two guest rooms on the first floor. There were two more guest rooms and a porch on the second floor and two dorm rooms on the third floor.

Greer Lodge was originally a destination for church retreats, but later began filling the rooms with guests when there were vacancies.

Word traveled fast and the lodge's popularity as a guest destination took off almost immediately, leading to the construction of the first cabin on the property -- Little Lodge -- in 1959.

Today the resort, which the Sandahl family has spent seven years expanding, consists of 70 free-standing cabins in addition to the historic main building that burned.

Local residents are stunned and heartbroken.

"It's truly a landmark here in Greer," Smith said.

When "Good Morning! Arizona" went on the road during summer 2007, the show was broadcast live from Greer Lodge.

It's not yet known how the fire started.

John Raven of Fusion Outdoors was filming at the lodge and said there was some maintenance work going on. Sandahl said he had no idea if that work might have sparked or contributed to the fire.

The fire chief told Sandahl that an investigation will be launched, which is standard procedure any time there's a fire at a commercial structure.

"That will start today," Sandahl said. "I'm sure they'll figure out what caused the fire."

The Greer Fire Department and the Apache County Sheriff's Department have requested the assistance of investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Phoenix.

“ATF recognizes the impact that this fire has caused to the White Mountain community and we are dedicated to support the investigative efforts of the Greer Fire Department and the Apache County Sheriff’s Office," stated Thomas Brandon, special agent in charge of the Phoenix ATF, in an email to local media outlets.

Even though he's devastated by the loss, Sandahl told 3TV that he and his family will rebuild the lodge.

"There are too many memories here," he said.

Greer is located near the New Mexico border about 240 miles from Phoenix.


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