Kirkwood closes after power plant fire |

Kirkwood closes after power plant fire

Susan Wood
Lori Morris/Photo provided Kirkwood Valley fills with black smoke from a fire at its power plant on Sunday.

KIRKWOOD – A fire broke out Sunday afternoon in the Kirkwood Mountain Resort power house, cutting operations at the Alpine County ski area and power to nearby valley residents at midday.

The ski area was ordered closed by 12:30 p.m., shortly after crews from the Kirkwood Volunteer, Lake Valley and Woodfords fire departments spent about 10 minutes extinguishing the fire that could be seen across the valley.

Witnesses gave accounts of billowing flames and smoke from the building located near the Red Cliffs Lodge.

“Our chair stopped. Then we looked over and saw the Reut stopped, and we knew – this isn’t just somebody falling off the lift,” Rusty Sammon said, returning to his vehicle at 2 p.m.

The San Francisco man was on The Wagon Wheel chairlift, commonly known as “The Wall.”

“Smoke filled the sky,” said Paul McDonald, Sammon’s buddy.

The backup generators kicked in 20 minutes later, allowing skiers and boarders on the chairlifts to get off.

As of press time, power was expected to be restored to residents Sunday night and to the ski resort by Thursday for Veteran’s Day weekend, President Tim Cohee said, surveying the damage. The ski area has operated on weekends over the last few weeks, its earliest opening ever.

Cohee said the mountain was full of people and he was grateful the structure was ventilated and therefore did not burn to the ground.

One employee damaged his hand with a fire extinguisher.

No estimates were given of damage to the building, with the roof sustaining the bulk of it. The blaze started when an engine overheated and ignited the wood frame.

“It’s amazing we received minimal damage. We had a full mountain,” Cohee said.

At least a handful of Kirkwood employees either work at the Volunteer Fire Department or have in the past. There’s also a protocol in place to handle such emergencies.

Cohee was pleased with the responsiveness of the agencies and his staff.

Those who bought tickets get a free day in lieu of Sunday’s half-day of operations. Pass holders were given drink vouchers.