Historic Sierra Nevada House Burns Down

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EL DORADO COUNTY --

The Sierra Nevada House has literally risen from the ashes twice during its history.

Many in Coloma and Lotus are counting on that to happen again after what happened Monday night.

Charred chairs that helped host 165 years of history are just some of what was forced out of the Sierra Nevada House as it burned.

"I just couldn't believe it," Marcia Campbell said.

Instead of the customary sounds of celebration, smoke filled the air above the Lotus Road landmark while staff and supporters alike tried to come to grips with what the fire took.

"It's surreal, I can't even," said Sammie Campbell, shaking her head.

Sammie Campbell just recently became the Sierra Nevada's assistant general manager, but she started her career there as a bartender nine years ago.

Her mom Marcia Campbell ran the adjoining massage therapy studio.

"I understand that the windows were blown out and some other things -- not quite sure exactly," said Marcia Campbell.

At it's height, the fire at the hotel demanded the attention of 12 engines from six different agencies.

The toughest thing about fighting fire at a historic building?

"It was built in 1859, had some add-ons, so it's a little bit 'mazy' in there," said El Dorado County Fire Chief Michael Hardy.

"Fortunately nobody was here when the fire started. It was the first chef that showed up for the day that saw smoke," Sammie Campbell said.

Crews were able to contain most of the fire and devastation to the second floor, but not without first degree burns to one firefighter.

"He had some debris fall down the back of his jacket while he was pulling some ceiling. It is considered minor, I believe," Hardy said.

One of the things crews were able to save at the hotel was "Buford the Bison."

People actually called him Buford the bouncer because the mounted head often fell off the bar wall and would bounce on the floor.

It's just one of the things folks really remember from this place and one part of its past people hope will carry on into the future if the hotel is rebuilt.

That's already happened twice, along with a move for the hotel following to get it off state park land.

"I had people 60, 70, 80 who come back for dinner or reunions and they worked here back in the '70s as a soda jerk. So there's a lot of sad people in town right now," said Howard Penn.

Penn managed the Sierra Nevada House for 15 years before selling to the current owners.

They were just taking bids to turn the historic hotel's six lodging rooms over the bar and restaurant into office space.

Investigators are still hunting for the reason why all those plans went up in smoke.

Fire tests the purity of gold, and now after blazes in 1902 and 1925, a third fire will test the perseverance of a gold-rush era icon.