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Deja Vu: New Clearwater Lodge Burns Down Six Years After Original Lodge was Torched

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Rural Deltana Volunteer Fire Department
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Alaska State Troopers and the state Fire Marshal’s Office are investigating the cause of an early morning fire destroyed the new Clearwater Lodge near Delta Junction. The million-dollar structure was built on the site of the old historic lodge that an arsonist burned to the ground six years ago.

Rural Deltana Volunteer Fire Chief Tim Castleberry was still on site this morning, along with about 10 firefighters and an investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

“We’re still doing overhaul, and still getting hotspots,” he told a reporter.

All three local fire departments responded to call and battled the blaze through the night. Castleberry said some parts of the lodge remained standing, but for practical purposes he says it’s a complete loss.

“The only thing still left really standing is all the timbers out on the back deck,” he said. “The whole back deck is still intact, as well.”

As he sifted through the charred remains of what had been a beautiful log-frame structure built on the banks of the Clearwater River, Castleberry says he couldn’t help but feel a bit of déjà vu when he first got the fire call a little after 2 a.m. That’s because he got the same sort of call for a fire at the same location just over six years ago – a fire that burned the old lodge to the ground.

“Y’know,” he said, “when that initial tone goes out and they gave the address and they said ‘Clearwater Lodge,’ we’re like, ‘Really?’ ”

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Credit KUAC file photo
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The new Clearwater Lodge, like the old one, was built on a bluff overlooking a bend in the Clearwater River, next door to the Clearwater State Recreation Site. Castleberry said people staying at the campground were the first to report the fire around 2 a.m.

The original lodge was about 60 years old when a juvenile arsonist torched it in May of 2014. The crime shocked area residents, because the lodge was a favorite get-together spot for rodeos, picnics, snowmachine races or maybe just a cold one after a long day of fishing on the Clearwater.

All those activities resumed after the new and fancier lodge rose from the ashes. But Castleberry says the community now will have to go through the whole grieving process again.

“It’s really horrible,” he said. “We hate to see people lose anything, especially a landmark for the area. Y’know a lot of people come out here to just sit on the deck and look at the beautiful Clearwater River and watch the sunsets and ... It’s just a sad thing.”

The chief says there’s no official dollar-estimate yet on the damage. But the lodge owner told a reporter back in 2016 that he and partners had invested more than a million dollars in the new 7,500-square foot structure. Owner Kevin Ewing said at the time his only concern then was trying to make the new lodge as appealing as the old one.

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Credit KUAC file photo
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Lodge co-owner Patsy Ewing and a friend survey the smoldering rubble of the old Clearwater Lodge on the morning of May 14, 2014, after it was burned to the ground by an arsonist.

“That’s why I wanted to try and make the building look like it’d been here,” Ewing said in a 2016 interview. “So when you pulled up, it didn’t look like a sterile, new building that everybody kind of has to take their shoes off to come in to!”

Ewing was unavailable for comment today, reportedly because he’s on a hunting trip. And his son, Lowen, who manages the lodge, didn’t return phone calls.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.