Fire damages Sylvan Lake Lodge

Ron Burtz
Custer State Park’s (CSP) Sylvan Lake Lodge along Hwy. 87 near Sylvan Lake sustained major damage in a fire Saturday night that brought firefighters from more than a dozen departments and from as far away as north of Rapid City and Newcastle, Wyo., to help in the battle. 
Frigid temperatures, gusty winds and flames shooting through the roof of the two story building greeted the first responders to the scene. 
A press release from the Custer Volunteer Fire Department said: “First arriving firefighters found a free burning fire, with a moderate to heavy smoke condition, in the interior of a large multi-story hotel, with fire extending to the exterior and roof assembly of the structure, and immediately struck a second alarm.”
The press release also included the information that two firefighters had received minor injuries, however, there were no reports of injuries to civilians or domestic animals.
After initially knocking down the flames issuing from the roofline of the southeast end of the building, by about 8:30 firefighters were struggling to get water inside the attic of the structure and had called in a ladder truck to help with the operation. Fortunately, firefighters were able to access a nearby fire hydrant and did not have to initially haul water.
Public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety, Tony Mangan said on Tuesday the fire is under investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s office but “appears to be accidental in nature.”
“The cause of the fire is undetermined and the investigation is continuing,” said Mangan.
When contacted on Monday, CSP superintendent Matt Snyder said he had toured the lodge and made a preliminary assessment of the damage. 
“I can tell you there are 12 lodge rooms (of 35 total) that are unusable at this point in time because of the damage from the fire,” said Snyder. 
He said the damage appeared to be contained to the lodging area at the far end of the building from the lobby and dining room. 
Snyder said the lobby and great room area which leads into the dining room appeared to be “in good shape.”
Snyder said the building has been unoccupied since the lodge closed for the season in mid-October and notification of the blaze came from an automatic fire alarm system. He said the building also has an automatic fire suppression sprinkler system which activated but was apparently unable to overcome the flames. Snyder said an insurance adjuster has been out to inspect the building but there is no cost estimate as to the extent of the damage at this point. 
When asked whether he thought the building might be able to be repaired in time for the 2022 travel season, Snyder was hesitant to guess. 
“It’s all going to depend on the extent of damage to that entire structure,” he said. “Once we get a chance, we’re going to dig into that and see what all happened up there. I don’t even want to speculate right now as to how quickly something’s going to happen or not happen.”
Depending on weather conditions, the lodge usually opens for the season in mid-April. 
Snyder said park officials will be working in coming weeks to assess the situation and “figure out a game plan.”
Snyder was complimentary toward the Custer Volunteer Fire Department for its “fabulous job” of responding to the fire call in a timely manner. 
“I have a huge sense of appreciation for the quick response,” said Snyder, “and the level of response that was able to show up and do the great job that they did. This could have ended a lot worse for us without the great help of all the fire departments that showed up.”
Responding agencies included Custer County Communications, Custer County Sheriff’s Office, Custer Volunteer Fire Department, Battle Creek Fire Department, South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Commission, Custer State Park Management, Pennington County 911, Fairburn Volunteer Fire Department, Pringle Volunteer Fire Department, Argyle Volunteer Fire Department, Custer Ambulance service, Custer County Emergency Management, Custer County Search and Rescue, Hill City Volunteer Fire Department, Doty Volunteer Fire Department, Rapid Valley Volunteer Fire Department, North Haines Volunteer Fire Department, Whispering Pines Volunteer Fire Department, Black Hawk Volunteer Fire Department, Johnson Siding Volunteer Fire Department, Newcastle Wyoming Volunteer Fire Department, Battle Mountain Hot Springs Veterans Affairs Fire Department, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, South Dakota Department of Transportation and the South Dakota Fire Marshal’s Office.
Ironically, the original Sylvan Lake Hotel, a rambling white building built in 1893 which sat on the west banks of the lake near the spillway, was destroyed by fire in 1935. The lodge was later rebuilt up the hill at the present sit which was designated by world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. 
The present lodge was built of native stone and timbers in 1937 and a new wing of lodge rooms was added in 1991. That new wing appears to be the part that was damaged by Saturday’s blaze.

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