Grand Bear fire ‘not believed to be suspicious’

Authorities still investigating source of prolonged blaze at Starved Rock

The fire that destroyed 28 vacation units at Grand Bear Resort at Starved Rock (but without any injuries) still is under investigation but authorities do not suspect arson.

Assistant Utica Fire Chief Drew Partain reported Tuesday that firefighters still were dealing with “hot spots” in the area where seven, four-unit cabins were destroyed by a fast-spreading fire late Monday afternoon.

The cause isn’t known, “but I can tell you it is not believed to be suspicious at the time of this briefing,” Partain said at a morning press conference. He said there would be no more live updates.

Partain said the firefighting effort was hampered by winds from the south clocked at 30 to 40 mph and which quickly spread the fire from cabin to cabin. Partain said the fire originated on a porch at Cabin 18, unit 3 which then migrated to Cabin 19, correcting preliminary reports the fire spread the other way around.

The dispatch went out shortly before 5:30 p.m. and was elevated to five-alarm status with a half hour. The fire was only contained, not deemed under control, by 9:30 p.m.

At a press conference held then, Utica’s assistant fire chief revealed 57 fire companies and 13 MABAS (mutual aid box alarm system) divisions had responded. Water had to be trucked in – there are no hydrants in the area – and Partain estimated 5 to 10 million gallons were expended.

It wasn’t until just before midnight that the fire was pronounced under control.

Matthew Kosch, vice president of Sonnenschein Groupe, which owns the resort, said Tuesday the hotel and water park are not damaged and the fire affected privately-owned structures. Several families were displaced and received aid from the American Red Cross.

“We’re waiting like everybody to see what the cause was,” Kosch said. “We haven’t been informed of anything new with that.

“We’re grateful everyone was safe.”

Of the 28 units at Grand Bear Resort at Starved Rock, only two were reported to have been full-time residences. (Neither Kosch nor Partain confirmed that figure.) For most of unit owners, these were second homes and weekend getaways.

Kerry Regnier of Batavia is among those who lost her second home. Regnier said she wasn’t initially onsite when the fire started but, after being contacted by another homeowner, she raced to Utica and was stunned by the size and ferocity of the fire.

“I just couldn’t believe the strength of the wind,” Regnier said. “And when I saw the inferno I thought, ‘There’s no way my building will get through this.’ ”

Regnier thanked the many firefighters who risked their lives fighting the fire – “We appreciate their presence and we are grateful for it” – but also acknowledged the losses were staggering, not least for those who call the vacation properties home.

“There are people for whom this was their primary home,” Regnier said, “and for them I am most sad.”