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MERLIN, Ore. — On Tuesday morning, firefighters rushed toa reported fire at Galice Resort, the iconic restaurant and store situated along the Rogue River to the northwest of Merlin. Within a few hours, flames completely gutted the building.
Crews from Rural Metro Fire responded to the resort just after 10:30 a.m. after receiving a 911 call reporting smoke in the building. Rural Metro said that resort staff were instructed to evacuate after turning off the electrical systems and closing all the doors and windows, hoping to contain the fire by cutting off the supply of oxygen.
Nevertheless, staff members saw flames beginning to spread as they left, RMF said.
By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had already broken out of the building, ensuring that it would have the oxygen to burn freely.
Firefighters used the boat ramp below the restaurant to draw water for the fire as other fire personnel and the resort staff tried to save rafting supplies from storage before the fire spread to the garage.
Ultimately, fire officials said that the main Galice Resort was a total loss. Some of the rafts and nearby vehicles were salvaged from the fire, but the building itself and most of its contents were destroyed.
Mary Lou Thomason told NewsWatch 12 that her daughter, and now owner of Galice Resort Debbie Thomason, was working at the Resort when the fire began, although she did not see what caused it. She called 911 and the building was evacuated quickly and safely, becoming fully engulfed in flames not long after.
Five spot fires spread into the surrounding wildland, burning roughly one-tenth of an acre. Crews from the Oregon Department of Forestry responded to help contain these fires — bringing in multiple engines, a Type 2 helicopter, and an air attack plane.
While the Galice Resort burned, ODF said that their helicopter helped firefighters on the ground by performing more than 20 bucket drops on the building.
"Windy conditions contributed to the fire spreading beyond the structure, causing concern for nearby houses directly across the street; however, all fires were extinguished well before reaching those areas," ODF said.
Surrounding residents did temporarily evacuate as a precaution. ODF said that fire crews will stay on the scene to ensure that any additional hotspots are found and extinguished.
Rural Metro indicated that an investigation into the cause of the fire will begin as soon as it's safe to set foot inside the burned building.
"The Galice Resort has been a mainstay in the community for 41 years although the building itself has been around much longer," Rural Metro said in a statement. "Its role in the area took on new meaning as COVID restrictions were lifted, due to its capacity to serve significant numbers of people who were ready to get back outside, eat a good meal among friends, and once again listen to live music."
Even prior to the pandemic, the Galice Resort withstood several major economic hits caused by the impacts of summer wildfires. In the summer of 2018, the seasonal resort was shut down for more than a week as the Taylor Creek Fire grew north, nearly to the banks of the Rogue River. Though the building itself was not directly impacted by the flames, Galice Road was shut down while fire crews worked on containment, forcing the closure.
Thomason told NewsWatch 12 that she has insurance that could cover the damage wrought by Tuesday's fire, but it may be some time before they can rebuild.
This story has been updated with further details from responding agencies and reporting at the scene over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday.