‘We’re devastated.’ Much of historic Dardanelle Resort destroyed by Donnell Fire

When she heard the Donnell fire jumped Highway 108 on Sunday night, Laurelin Coggins Lewis’ heart sank. There was a window of time when Lewis, who since May has owned the Dardanelle Resort with her husband, Jim, thought the wildfire might be just an inconvenience to their business.

They felt terribly for the Donnell area residents, but when the wind shifted, they began to fear for the resort. After hearing there was “massive structural damage” to their resort, which she vacated Friday and Jim on Sunday, Lewis had little hope. “We just don’t know what’s standing,” she said by phone Monday morning. “But the fire’s burning so hot, I can’t imagine anything’s standing.”

Sadly, she was right. Citing a Stanislaus National Forest representative, The Union Democrat reported Monday that the main store-restaurant were destroyed. “No one was around at Dardanelle Resort, where a sign was still out on Highway 108 advising ‘New Ownership, Under New Management, Bar, Restaurant & Gas Station Open.’ All that appeared to be burned to the ground, along with multiple cabins nearby on the south side of Highway 108,” the news site reported.

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Dardanelle Resort along with most of the cabins around it were a total loss during to extreme wind and weather that flashed through the area Sunday evening Aug. 5, 2018. As of Monday Aug. 6, 2018 the Donnell Fire in Tuolumne County has grown to 11,074 Acres according to the U.S. Forest Service. Marty Bicek

The Lewises, who grew up in Tuolumne County and particularly love the high country, bought the Dardanelle Resort in May from previous owners Chuck and Cindy Fleischer. Returning over the Sonora Pass after a trip last fall, the Lewises saw the “For sale” sign and immediately were interested, Laurelin Lewis said.

“We were thrilled and our kids were thrilled because they have grown up going there,” she said. The family occupied the living space upstairs in the main building.

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A home along Highway 108 is overtaken by flames as the Donnell Fire in Tuolumne County rapidly advances along Highway 108 Sunday Aug. 5, 2018. Marty Bicek

The couple have a 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old and 18-month-old sons. With the new baby, the Lewises were so excited that he’d grow up knowing no other home than the resort, Laurelin said.

She said she’s very grateful for the support from the community, including guests who’ve opened their homes to the displaced family, and offers of help in rebuilding. “We’re devastated, but we’re leaning into that and the community. We’re also there, to support cabin owners who have a deeper history than us.”

The U.S. Forest Service reported late Sunday night that the fire jumped Highway 108 at Brightman Flat and “forced fire crews to disengage from the intense fire’s edge.”

The fire destroyed numerous structures in the area of Dardanelle and Brightman Flat, the Forest Service said in a news release. “Fortunately, the areas affected by the fire were evacuated early on Aug. 5, resulting in no known injuries or fatalities.”

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Donnell Fire

Red circles on this live-updating map are actively burning areas, as detected by satellite. Orange circles have burned in the past 12 to 24 hours, and yellow circles have burned within the past 48 hours. Yellow areas represent the fire perimeter.
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

Sunday evening, the fire was reported at 6,000 acres with 2 percent containment. By midafternoon Monday, it was more than 11,000 acres, with containment unchanged. The Forest Service put total personnel fighting the fire at 441, including five hand crews, three helicopters and 23 engines.

A 2009 Modesto Bee story said the Dardanelle Resort 50 miles east of Sonora comprised a store, restaurant, bar, seven cabins, four motel rooms and 35 RV spaces.

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Cindy Fleischer posted Sunday night that the Donnell fire took not only the resort they owned for 15 years, but also the family cabin of more than 95 years in the Brightman Flat area. “Both my parents are numb tonight, like so many of us,” she wrote. “They are just thankful there has been no life loss on this sad sad day.”

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A cooler box that held beer at the Dardanelle Resort store stands with its surroundings destroyed after a wind whipped fire exploded in the area Sunday evening Aug. 5, 2018. As of Monday Aug. 6, 2018 the Donnell Fire in Tuolumne County has grown to 11,074 Acres according to the U.S. Forest Service. Marty Bicek

To the Coggins/Lewis family, she added, “We’ll all be there for you to help rebuild. The fire might have taken our cabin and the resort building, but it never will take the memories.”

The Donnell Fire started Aug. 1 near the east side of Donnell Lake. The fire is burning primarily along the north bank of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River in steep and rough terrain with heavy standing dead and down timber. The Forest Service estimates containment by Sept. 1.

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