Grand Bear Memorial Day fire in Utica started by unattended charcoal grill

Fire marshal declares fire ‘accidental’

The foundations of three sets of cabins, dead trees, and burnt vehicles are all that remains after a major fire swept through the Grand Bear Resort and set fire to 28 cabins on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 in Utica.

The Memorial Day fire that destroyed 28 vacation units at Grand Bear Resort in Utica was started by a barbecue grill, the Office of the State Fire Marshal has concluded.

The marshal also determined the fire was an accident, the Utica Fire Protection District said in a press release.

“The cause of the fire has been deemed accidental in nature,” said Utica Fire Chief Ben Brown. “The fire is believed to be caused by an unattended charcoal grill on a porch.

The marshal’s findings were not a surprise. Fire officials said at the time they did not suspect arson and privately suspected a grill was the source. Winds were heavy that day (30-40 mph) and it was suspected that embers from a barbecue could have been thrown to adjacent structures.

The finding it was an accident likely precludes any criminal charges; but La Salle County State’s Attorney Todd Martin said Thursday his office has not been tendered reports needed to make any determination.

The dispatch went out shortly before 5:30 p.m. Memorial Day 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 (mututal aid box alarm system) divisions had responded. Water had to be trucked in — there are no hydrants in the area — and an estimated 5 to 10 million gallons were expended.

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

Brown said Thursday’s pronouncement is a reminder families should exercise precautions, especially as July 4 approaches, to practice proper outdoor cooking and fire safety.