The Ponderosa Lodge, a restaurant, tavern and commercial 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, said the owner.
The business, which had been closed due to historic snowfall, had been a staple of Tulare County’s mountain community since the 1960s. It burned down on Friday after winter storms closed roads in snow and qu a new atmospheric river system has pushed rivers beyond the flood stage.
“We are devastated and heartbroken to say the least,” Ponderosa Lodge owner David Sharp said in a Facebook post. “The lodge has enjoyed decades of joy, [camaraderie], community, laughter and satisfies a million hungry stomachs. Everything was gone in a few minutes.
Roads leading to the lodge were blanketed in several feet of snow, preventing crews from responding to the blaze, Tulare County Fire Captain Francisco Benitez said Monday. As the lodge burned, emergency officials rescued residents caught in the rapid floodwaters.
“If we go up to [Ponderosa Lodge] to investigate, it will have to be after all these floods have subsided,” Benitez said.
Sharp, the lodge owner, said the fire destroyed his business within minutes. While unsure of the cause of the fire, a person who was in the area said a large chunk of ice fell from the roof and damaged a propane line, Sharp told The Times. .
“There were people who said they heard an explosion and smelled a strong smell,” he said.
The company had no property insurance because Sharp’s carrier canceled its policy after making wildfire-related coverage claims it couldn’t afford to fill in time, Sharp said. .
No one was hurt in the blaze, but the business is a total loss, he said.
“We feel like our whole lives have been torn apart,” Sharp said.
Sharp, who previously worked as a roofer in Orange County, first saw the lodge when he went camping in the area with his daughters. At the time, the company was for sale.
“They wanted me to [buy] because it was their dream,” Sharp said, his voice cracking.
Although he didn’t buy 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 an enormous amount of work,” Sharp said in a text message. Still, the couple decided to use their savings to buy it.
In 2020, the lodge was ordered to evacuate due to the SQF Resort Fire that burned in the Sequoia National Forest. Crews were able to drive the fire away from the community of Ponderosa. When Sharp returned to the lodge, he was covered in pink fire retardant.
Now the lodge is gone and a friend from the Ponderosa community has opened a GoFundMe account to help recoup the losses.
“We have a very close community,” Sharp said. “We are kind of like a family.”