Stubborn fire damages several units at North Shore's Bluefin Bay Resort
TOFTE -- Firefighters from much of the North Shore spent hours fighting a stubborn fire that broke out on Saturday afternoon at one of the region's premiere resorts.
Four units were severely damaged and one sustained water damage at Bluefin Bay, general manager and owner Dennis Rysdahl said.
Bluefin Bay is located along the Lake Superior shore about 80 miles northeast of Duluth.
The fire, which started at about noon, was out and the last firefighters were pulling away at 8 p.m., Rysdahl said.
"Now we just have to do the cleanup," he said.
At one time, as many as five additional units were threatened, Rysdahl said. Everyone in the affected building was evacuated, and a nearby building also was evacuated as a precautionary measure as firefighters from nine departments fought the blaze. The evacuations affected about 80 to 100 guests.
But by nightfall, alternative lodging had been found for guests in the damaged units, and those in the remaining units had been allowed to return, he said.
No one was injured and apparently no one was in the affected units when the fire broke out, Rysdahl said.
It wasn't immediately clear exactly when the fire started, but Rysdahl and various bystanders placed the time at around the noon hour.
Ben Christensen, a Duluth native who lives in Minneapolis, was at Bluefin for a wedding, staying as one of six people in one unit. He watched the unit he had been staying in burn on Saturday afternoon from the other side of the resort's tennis courts.
"We've got all of our stuff in there," Christensen said. "We've got laptops, we've got clothes, we've got all of our personal effects."
Bluefin management already had provided them with a place to stay for the night, Christensen said. And they had just attended the outdoor wedding, albeit in the clothes they'd spent the morning hiking in.
Christensen said he had been told the fire started next door to them, in Unit 46. Firefighters told them they would try to save their possessions, he said, but he was philosophical about any material loss. "No one got hurt," he said. "That's all we care about."
There was no official word on the cause of the fire.
Rysdahl said he was told a maintenance worker first noticed the smoke, checked in the unit and saw an unattended fire. But Rysdahl said he didn't want to speculate on the cause until the fire marshal had a chance to investigate, he said.
Tofte visitor Jen Gambucci of Shoreview, Minn., who was watching crews battle the fire, said she had heard from firefighters that an unattended wood stove may have sparked the blaze.
Dave Fanta of Woodbury, Minn., who was staying at the resort for the weekend with his family, said he was eating lunch on the deck of his unit when he first saw smoke above the adjacent building.
"I thought it was kind of strange that somebody was starting a fire at this time of the day," Fanta recalled later. "Fifteen minutes later I heard some crackling."
His wife took a closer look and confirmed that the adjacent building was on fire. She called 911 and he called the front desk. "They said, 'Yes, we just got the report,' " he said.
Fanta, his wife and two children were told later they needed to evacuate the building, and they removed some of their possessions, he said.
Rysdahl said his employees followed established procedures in responding to the emergency ..
"They put a crew of people together and went door to door to make sure every guest was out and every pet was out," Rysdahl said.
Rysdahl said the resort was nearly full this weekend and houses between 250 and 300 people when it's at capacity. The resort employs about 150 people during the peak summer season, he said.
"Starting at this time of year, every day is like a Saturday," he said. "So this was a particularly bad time for this to happen."
Rysdahl was construction manager when the resort was built in 1983 and has run the company ever since. He said Saturday's fire was "on its way" to becoming the most serious incident in his 30 years there. But he was philosophical about it.
"We are well-insured and nobody was injured," he said.
The Tofte Volunteer Fire Department, which has its headquarters adjacent to Bluefin Bay on state Highway 61, led the firefighting efforts, but its chief wasn't immediately available for comment. They were joined by units from Schroeder, Silver Bay, Finland, Maple Hill, Colvill, Hovland, Grand Marais and Lutsen , along with Cook County Ambulance and the Cook County Sheriff's Office.
Shortly after 4 p.m., Cook County dispatch reported that an "all call" had gone out to all departments in the county, to provide additional manpower for battling the fire.
Heavy smoke continued to pour out of the roof of one building at 6 p.m. Saturday, filtering through the tiny town of Tofte and limiting visibility on Highway 61. Sheriff's Office personnel slowed traffic on a short stretch of highway.