The Ponderosa Lodge, a restaurant, tavern and mercantile shop nestled in the southern Sierra Nevada, was destroyed in a fire that may have been started by damage to a propane line after recent winter storms, the proprietor said.
The business, which had been closed because of the historic snowfall, was a staple in the Tulare County mountain community since the 1960s. It burned Friday after winter storms shut down roads under feet of snow and as a new atmospheric river system pushed rivers past flood stage.
“We are devastated and heartbroken to say the least,” Ponderosa Lodge owner David Sharp said in a Facebook post. “The lodge has witnessed decades of joy, [camaraderie], community, laughter, and satisfied a million hungry tummies. All gone in a matter of minutes.”
Roads to the lodge were covered in several feet of snow, blocking crews from responding to the blaze, Tulare County Fire Capt. Francisco Benitez said Monday. While the lodge burned, emergency officials were rescuing residents caught in fast-moving floodwaters.
“If we do go up to the [Ponderosa Lodge] to conduct an investigation it will have to be after all this flooding subsides,” Benitez said.
Sharp, the lodge owner, said the fire destroyed his business in minutes. Though he is not certain what caused the blaze, a person who was in the area said a large chunk of ice fell off the roof and damaged a propane line, Sharp told The Times.
“There were people who said they heard an explosion and smelled a strong odor,” he said.
The business did not have property insurance because Sharp’s carrier canceled his policy after making wildfire-related coverage demands that he could not afford to complete in time, Sharp said.
No one was injured in the fire, but the business is a total loss, he said.
“We feel like our whole lives have been ripped apart,” Sharp said.
Sharp, who previously worked as a roofing contractor in Orange County, first saw the lodge when he went camping in the area with his daughters. At the time, the business was for sale.
“They wanted me to [buy] it, because that was their dream,” Sharp said, his voice breaking.
Though he didn’t purchase the business at the time, he and his wife stayed at the lodge a year later to watch a meteor shower — and it was still for sale, Sharp said.
“The lodge needed a tremendous amount of work,” Sharp said in a text message. Still, the couple decided to use their life savings to buy it.
In 2020, the lodge was under orders to evacuate due because of the SQF Complex fire that burned in Sequoia National Forest. Crews were able to keep the blaze away from the community of Ponderosa. When Sharp returned to the lodge, it was covered in pink fire retardant.
Now the lodge is gone and a friend from the Ponderosa community started a GoFundMe account to help recover the losses.
“We have a very close community,” Sharp said. “We’re kind of like a family.”
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